Thursday, August 30, 2012

Temple Grandin: Stewardship or Dominion? by Su Zi

         A number of years ago, when  job loss hit an unprecedented spike, local animal shelters residencies also hit unprecedented numbers. At one municipal shelter, as recently as eighteen months ago, an intern said that dogs and cats who had been rounded up by the control truck “were getting the needle right off the truck”, meaning that these dogs and cats never even saw the zoo for potential adoptions. In many cases, people brought in their dogs and cats because they chose to no longer feed them. Horses, who, despite their livestock appellation, also exist in many circumstances as pets, have also been subject to starvation because their human caretakers have their welfare as a low priority. The internet has continual information about either overtly threatened wildlife- –because of resource appropriation  of land for housing, commerce, oil drilling and pipelines, the melting north pole--or pictures of happy humans awash in blood and proudly holding the body of their murdered wolf or elk or stag or fish or whale, et cetera. We have failed, as a species, either directly or indirectly, to be stewards, to co-exist in peace on our planet. We act, to paraphrase a line from a popular science fiction movie, as if we humans are a cancer to our planet.

         There are a few humans who have dedicated their lives to undo our collective criminality, and among them is Temple Grandin. In the 2009 edition of her book Animals Make Us Human (cowritten with Catherine Johnson), Grandin outlines how to make the animals in our lives live happier lives. First, Grandin posits the work of neuroscientist Dr Jaak Panksepp and deploys these core behaviors as crucial for all living beings, with notice given for specific  needs of species. Grandin then tackles  a number of species by devoting a chapter to each ( dogs, cats,  horses, pigs, cows, chickens, wildlife)  and how their specific needs as a species interact with Panksepp’s rubric. Specific examples are made through Grandin’s convivial use of scientific research, anecdote and a winsome writing style. In many cases, she refutes popular notions with care and logic, as if gently explaining something with truth and clarity to a naughty child—which she is, for we are the naughty children.

         A disconcerting element of Grandin’s work are the chapters on species bound for slaughter. Grandin makes repeated mention of her work with slaughter facilities and minimizing horrific abuses to the creatures as they go in to be killed and butchered. Thoroughly horrifying is the revealing of the treatment of chickens: from the barbaric practices on the farm “without  anesthetics or painkillers” ( 212), to how “Laying hens [that make the eggs we eat] have the poorest welfare of all the farm animals” (233), to how “some of the farms were just throwing the hens, when they were old ladies, into the dumpster alive. Others got rid of their spent hens by sucking them up in a vacuum truck that is used to clean sewers” (211). Grandin posits ways that chickens can be bred better, live better and be slaughtered in ways that are less shaming to us than the “famous video of workers throwing chickens and stomping on them at a Pilgrim’s Pride plant” (227). Grandin repeatedly mentions how abusive behavior becomes normalized, and how she strives to eliminate the normalization of these abuses. She says, in her Afterward, that witnessing some Hereford cattle who “had a wonderful life […] motivated me to work on improving the industry instead of working to convince people to stop eating meat “(296).

         The specific chapters on species are a must-read for anyone who has any contact with dogs, cats et cetera; however, Grandin’s repeated references to Panksepp’s work is intensely illuminating, because it is true for all life forms and her repetition while discussing the application of this rubric essentially causes the reader to memorize these “blue-ribbon emotions”.  As fascinating as it is to realize the correlation between cats and humans with obsessive compulsive behaviors, it is useful to be aware that cats are “more like wild animals than dogs [… and that] The only way to train a wild animal is to use positive reinforcement” ( 71-72). As we gain awareness of how different species experience curiosity (“seeking”), we then become even more aware of how each of us is a sentient creature with basic neuro-behavioral needs. Any internet search of animal pictures reveals all sorts of beings demonstrating what are obviously emotions. Grandin says that “some people may not want to believe that animals really do have emotions. I think their own emotions are getting in the way of logic. When I read all the scientific evidence about electrical stimulation of subcortial brain systems, the only logical conclusion was that the basic emotion systems are similar in humans and all other mammals” ( 301). If we are to  modify our existence on our planet from that of barbaric, as a cancer, to that of stewardship, of co-existence, then Grandin’s teachings about how to respect the emotional needs of all life forms in a crucial  place to start.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

WHITE GIRL PROBLEMS by John Dorsey, reviewed by BL Kennedy


White Girl Problems

John Dorsey
Night Ballet Press
Elyria, Ohio

One Thousand Dead Abbie Hoffmans


 I will remember you this way:

bong in hand
inhaling the fears of a thousand dead revolutionaries

 in the Sacramento sun
where Abbie Hoffman became a rosary

What can I say?

You knew mambo when you saw it

Knew dreams by the way
They kissed your skin
For a taste of freedom. 

This is the new chapbook by John Dorsey. I like Dorsey’s poetry, but there is one major problem. Having recently seen the poet read from this book at Luna’s Café in Sacramento, California, I cannot get the experience out of my head. Dorsey’s reading voice tends to linger in one’s psyche. I simply cannot read these poems without the experience of hearing the boom of his voice. With that said, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of this book. As you read these poems, you constantly have the sense of the living voice of the poet.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jan Kounen’s Blueberry, reviewed by Travis Hedge Coke

“Moebius did comics under so many aliases because if it was blatantly obvious one guy could draw that many different kinds of awesome,” a clerk in a comics shop in California once told me, “most of the industry would give up their pencils in frustration.” Perhaps not actuality, that has a mythic rightness to it. Like our busted-nosed southerner for whom this movie is named, Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, aka Gir, is easier to take in, the less we know about him.

Now, Giraud is dead, as is Ernest Borgnine, who makes one of his last appearances in Blueberry. In the opening moments of the movie – for most of the movie – Blueberry, ol’ Mike himself, believes he is dead or dying. But entertainment with such a sense of flourish, of vibrancy should be tangled up with the dead.

The Blueberry of the early comics was a Lt. Columbo in the Old West, schlubby, smart, humble, endearing to the audience and annoying to guilty bastards and by-the-book hardcases everywhere. Movie-style Blueberry (Vincent Cassel) is a bit more serious, his troubles show on his face more readily, but he’s still a guy whose appearance, whose demeanor belies his depths. But, the movie hits all the major beats for a Blueberry story: nobody suspects what our man can do, it’s a time and place of white bullies running the show, no one can outrun a bullet, the sun always sets, and Indians make good scapegoats.

And, while the movie goes for a different style of visual than the comics, it channels the same robust stillness and courage to embrace experiential (and not emic/narrative) imagery. The characters are delineated in disparities, so many of the actors, including Colm Meaney, Michael Madsen, Juliette Lewis, and Temuera Morrison can fill in the blanks with gesture and mannerism. The DP and CGI crew worked diligently to balance every scene, each frame, making many moments crisp and memorable solely by the gorgeous organization that has gone into their arrangement.

I think that, after Unforgiven, Dead Man, and The Crow, filmmakers acknowledged that different directions had to be taken with the Western to justify its existence as anything but nostalgia fuel. Blueberry is one of the few in the past two decades that has risen to that, thankfully not mistaking confidence for being reassuring or coddling.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Keys in the River by Tendai Mwanaka

·  Paperback: 252 pages
·  Publisher: Savant Books & Publications LLC    (August 6, 2012)
·  Language: English
·  ISBN-10: 0985250623
·  ISBN-13: 978-0985250621

Keys in the River is a cycle of stories about economically-challenged, politically-torn, and disease-ridden Zimbabwe, told as if the reader were sitting and listening to neighbors and friends talking about life. Some stories are tender, even comic; in others, tragedy and outrage lurk. The stories share a common thread, a noble stance in the struggle to find love, freedom, justice, completeness, and satisfaction.

Tendai Rinos Mwanaka was born in 1973, in Nyanga, Nyatate, Mapfurira village, in the remote eastern highlands of Zimbabwe. He is the author of "Voices from Exile," a collection of poetry on Zimbabwe’s political situation and exile in South Africa published by Lapwing Publications, Northern Ireland in 2010. He has written and worked on over 17 manuscripts over the years and won several awards. "Logbook Written by a Drifter," and "Voices from Exile" were both short listed for the Erbecce Press Poetry Prize in 2011 and 2009, respectively. He was nominated for the Pushcart twice, once in 2008, and again in 2010, as well as commended for the Dalro Prize in 2008. He has published over 200 short stories, essays, memoirs, poems and visual art productions in over 100 magazines, journals, and anthologies in the following countries: USA , UK , Canada , South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Kenya, India, Italy , France , Spain, Cyprus, Australia and New Zealand. He lives and stays in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Knife Edge & Absinthe The Tango Poems by Lyn Lifshin

Price: $10.00
Paperback: 60 pages
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0985671513
ISBN-13: 978-0985671518

NightBallet Press

Order from
Knife Edge & Absinthe- The Tango Poems is a handsome 60-page collection of never-before-seen "tango poetry" by the legendary Lyn Lifshin. It contains a series of poems that explores the erotic knife-edge of freedom and loss of self in the absinthe of dancing the tango. For a single copy, only $10 plus $2 shipping! This fantastic book is available now!

Top of Form

Reviews of Knife Edge; The Tango Poems

These tango poems are jazz, sweet, slinky.They wrap their legs around you and then leap out, leaving your heart beating. They pull you in as only tango does, all passion and juice, cold and hot, smooth and spicy...your head left slightly off-center, off the main beat, not knowing whether to breathe or not. Lifshin is dancer and poet and if anyone could embrace tango in words, it is she. Any poem quoted from this book will make you stand up, quiver slightly and be ready to fall off into the ecstatic abyss of eroticism.

"Tango Before the Light Goes Blood/streaks tourmaline sky./put on your ruby skirt,/transparent as rose gauze/fishnet scissors under./When stars glaze the/tango floor....."

This little book will leave a tart, sweet/sour taste and you will crave more and more. —Alice Pero

As far as KNIFE EDGE & ABSINTHE (ha - - who was it that said "absinthe makes the heart grow fonder" - lol) - - is a beautiful book. I read it one sitting on the subway
The poems in this book are just wonderful - - reinforcing why she is my favorite poet in the world! You would think with all the work I've read and reviewed of hers that nothing could surprise me, but these poems did - - they make me want to write poetry, they also make me want to take TANGO lessons (I'm serious!)
— Cindy Hochman

The following review published July 2, 2012 in BookRoom
By Christina Zawadiwsky

Knife Edge & Absinthe – The Tango Poems, by Lyn Lifshin, published on June 15, 2012, by NightBallet Press, 60 pages.

are what we follow
to find the source
and in tango, the
source is why the
person chooses this
dance, the repetition
of patterns is what
we perceive as
harmony, it makes
us believe every
thing is well
in our universe

from the poem “She Said She Can See Patterns”

Knife-Edge & Absinthe – The Tango Poems, is about passion, both for life in general and for the dance itself. Beautifully produced by Dianne Borsenik’s NightBallet Press, this book of poems is Lyn Lifshin’s testament to a life of romance and precision, of following one’s partner in set patterns that linger like the night air after the dance is over and a new dance may be beginning in the hearts and minds of the dancers.

A dancer herself who has seriously studied ballet, Lifshin unfolds for us the longing that is inherent in the the dance, particularly the tango, as is evidenced in this poem:

“The Lapiz”

you drag your foot
in a circle as if
drawing on the
sand. The foot
never leaves the
ground. The lapiz
is a motion that
can be done with
aggression like a
bull pawing the
ground before
charging. The
follower can do it
by herself during
a pause but
when both dance
they make a slow
circle together,
keep their bodies
still and just
move their feet
circles along
the floor. It can
be very sensual,
a suspended state
of seduction

"The poem When There’s No Real Love Like A Tango" examines the loves and dances in one’s life that are without passion, and Unbalanced Tango talks about

What should be
smooth, a lynx,
strong and sweet,
is ragged, a car
with 3 flat tires.

Demon Lover Tango tells us:
…..When the music
stops, we are like
strangers, bodies
melting into each other,
awkward with words
in the light

Obsession Tango admonishes “still,/fantasy is the only/place you can keep him” and Ebony Night Tango advises “Forget about sleeping./Who doesn’t want/to go to the edge./It’s a taboo dance, a/taboo of onyx and/midnight.” Valentino Tango acknowledges “……Drums in/your blood/throb. The/electricity could/light up Mars”. In Green Willow Tango we learn about “What/couldn’t stay contained,/what couldn’t wait in/a cocoon of longing,/what winter kept/closed as a fist…”.
Lifshin’s Knife-Edge & Absinthe – TheTango Poems glistens with a myriad of ideas about how the tango is reflective of our entire lives. In Handcuffed To Heat Tango, “the wood floor…./alive in/the memory of/when it was a/dark oak and/there were still/live birds and/southern winds/singing in its branches” radiates beneath the dancers themselves. And in Crush Tango “With him/she is a flame on the/breeze or the breeze/on the flame as/sanity falls away/like snakeskin”.

Don’t Hold Someone Like
They’re Your Great Aunt
but hold your partner
like you mean it
when the man
turns his chest
follow it, twist at
your waist
sink into the floor.
All this as the
lilies are
and inside
your body too
Now, push off
and step away

Monday, August 20, 2012

Roadside Attractions by Su Zi

Even those of us who are most reclusive have been forced to confront the economic realities of our times: fuel prices  having repercussions on out- the- door investments at any emporium of groceries, other consumables; even at-home confrontations with utilities, taxation and individual transportation needs. There have been protests—fortunately—live and online, but the onus for change has been placed on the very power structure that is responsible for the duress and reconfiguration of economic caste in our country. We act as if we are children, we have been dis-empowered without our awareness; yet, in truth, we can go far beyond reliance on those tough and hardy souls who camp out and risk arrest to stand as the voice of our despair.

         A television ad has the slogan “what’s in your wallet?’——yet consideration of this slogan de-contextualized from the advertisement is a viable tool for reclamation of the economic power of each of us: we can protest with each penny spent by how and where we spend it.

It is not uncommon these days to see people camped out at roadside with their wares on display. Often times these goods are items of desperation: culled clothing and household goods, a sacrifice of tools,  or a single  item will be displayed with a hand lettered sign—a car, a boat, a trailer. Most notable are trucks of produce in season—these are the lovingly raised crops of local farmers whose production total is too small to enter the grinding machine of food distribution, and these  folks are a crucial first step in any effort to take economic agency into the hands of each of us; for these are the seeds that are not factory raised with as much of a deluge of pesticide, herbicide, steroids; in some cases, this is organic food, raised on heritage seeds (instead of genetically modified seeds); and now there has appeared the most amazing soul—someone selling their art at roadside.

The intersection is a busy enough corner. The artists sit with two tables under a sunroof made of tent poles and a tarp. Standing a few paces toward the road is a handmade gaming table of finished but unstained oak, with a drawer on each side and hand made chess pieces set ready for play. In the drawer are hand made checkers. The creator, Tim,  regularly submits job applications  for the areas of his previous employ—as a plumber, a sheet metal worker, a cook. The game table draws glances, it is a distinctive work; nonetheless, the big box mentality sees too much of a challenge here, because the game table is not at  a brick and mortar emporium of acceptable handcraft that also sells mold formed garden pots from Mexico.

Also on the game table, and hanging from the edges of the tarp and generously heaped on the two tables in the shade, are other art objects—some the creation of the collaboration between Tim and his partner Tracey, others the collaboration between Tim , Tracey and Tracey’s mother: these are wooden rolling pins with hand painted images, or plaques with burned patterns and hand painted hues. It is a style of art generally called Cottage Chic, or Rustic, but more importantly is its genuine charm—there’s no post-modern, urban angst in this work—it is meant to amuse, to delight, to warm and it succeeds with the same unassuming truth as a family meal: simple and soul filling.

Alas, on this one Saturday, not a single vehicle stops for the five hours Tim and Tracey sit offering art directly to their community: they wave at those who look, they chat and smoke and read and add hangers to other works—a nice rendering of an owl on an oak shingle, a series of hooks painted kitchen diner style and featuring artfully bent flatware—but no one even stops. The vehicles that pass by are mostly recent pick up trucks and the 21st century version of a station wagon; some of these look too upscale for the area and will undoubtedly be repossessed—the neighborhood is dotted with desperate-before-foreclosure for sale signs.

What we each need to do—and what five hours of the drivers in this community failed to do—is realize that money spent in our communities stays among us, slows the feed to what Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath called the monster that must keep feeding and growing, what we have come to call corporations (that have superseded nations, have superseded individuals). Of course, art that has not been sanctioned by some gallery, by some appropriating corporation, is seen as suspect: here lies the root of our re-education, our re-empowerment—we must buy local art. We must buy oranges from the local retired dentist, tomatoes from the downsized and disenfranchised, hand made soap. We must  spend our money at roadside, or farmer’s markets. It’s our economic lives we are fighting for, and it’s  past due time to take up our dollars in the fight.

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