Category Archives: history

for more Mount Airy news….

go here, from now on. As the book’s publication year approaches, I need to give more energy here to its concerns. But I did want to let you all know how the move came out!

I’ve mentioned, methinks, that I’ve  had a longstanding not-so-secret crush on the City of Brotherly Love (and sisterly affection) for more than ten years, a side grace note to my torrid love affair with the city of my birth. New Yorkers (and I’ll likely call myself one till I die) like to feel with Colson Whitehead that “I was born here, and thus ruined for anywhere else…..” The first Pelham in the subject line is Pelham Bay, the Bronx neighborhood from which I [was] sprung.

But I’ve always had  a soft spot for small cities, and when I first got to know Philly I was living in San Francisco, which is even smaller, and came here because my organization had an office here. Philly struck me as a cross between Baltimore, where I once moved to heal from divorce, and that other colonial town where the Lenape first met Europeans.

Of course, as you know I actually moved nearly a year ago from Manhattan, to which I moved in 2000 an exultant new lover. The circumstances even made the papers. But it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that we felt able to look for an apartment here — and less than a month ago, had the incredible luck to find a place in Mount Airy, not the first Philly nabe I fell in love with (that honor goes to Old City) but a place that already feels almost as much home as did Washington Heights/Inwood, where we lived for six years, or my long-cherished Mission District. (Those two years in Greenwich Village were dreamy, but always felt borrowed.) I do feel a little like a stereotype, being so happy about the food co-op, the lesbian-owned bookstore, but there we are.

phillyview

Mount Airy, where we live now, is none of those places: it’s completely itself. Its history is slightly younger than NYC’s, though settled first by Germans in the 1680s (and first called by the English “Beggarstown,” which feels kind of appropriate for us if not the actual neighborhood).

Boy_with_SquirrelThe major street nearest to me also bears the name of Pelham, an estate owned by the Revolution’s hardest-working engraver (or someone else in his family). We don’t live in one of the nabe’s stained-glass beauties, but a Victorian that has its own deep charm

I’m writing this now as a transitional post between this and New in Philadelphia. There, I might feel more free to include quieter observations, like how it feels to be reunited with a cat or why I’m beginning to suspect that I’m actually in Berkeley.

and then there’s June 9th, when McCarthy met his match

Joseph McCarthy, that is. As I was helpfully reminded by the Times’ “On This Day” feature, June 9th 1954 was the day U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch asked that fateful question of the chair of the Un-American Activities Committee: “Sir, have you no sense of decency?”

KemptonAll of which was wonderfully chronicled by Murray Kempton, one of my favorite World War II vets — who went on to cover the beginnings of the civil rights movement and was a signatory to the ad placed by the American Veterans Committee in December 1965, as the Vietnam War was revving up. I just wish he’d asked that question of LBJ.

For D-Day anniversary: the voice of one who knows (Updated 6/9)

normandyIMG

I first met Knox Martin two years ago. For one of my first Chelsea Now stories, I wrote about his “Venus” mural on 19th Street and the West Side Highway, since obscured by Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue condominium complex. When I learned Martin, still fighting for his new anti-war mural “Killing the Whales,” was a veteran of Omaha Beach, I knew I had to talk to him for the book; we sat in his Washington Heights apartment, where he showed me the clipping at left – which was the only way his mother knew, in 1945, that her younger son was alive.

Below are some highlights of what he told me, which my paper published that August for the 60th anniversary of the war’s end.

You mirror your dad, pioneer aviator William Knox Martin, in that you’ve embraced both art and science.

Yes. My father’s uncle was putting him through art school at the University of Maryland, when he walked out of his house one day and saw this thing flying through the air. Very primitive—the airplane had just been invented in 1906. And he said, “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

I was going to be a scientist, too. I went to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, a school known for graduating scientists. I was doing a lot of drawing while at school and was drawing for a WPA project. I was also an avid reader. I was so advanced, I dropped out of the school because I thought, I’m not learning anything here I don’t already know. My father then died, and my uncle asked me to come to Virginia.

You were 19 when Pearl Harbor was hit. Did you know right away that you were going to war?

I knew it was coming: I was an early reader. I read the paper and thought, How can this be, about Hitler? We were at a wealthy family’s house in Scarsdale, N.Y., where the owner was for Hitler. When everyone was out on the lawn, I took every piece of furniture and wrote “Death to Hitler” on the bottom of each one. Then when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, It felt like a deep wound.

I didn’t go in right away. After my father died in 1941, I went to work for the Northwest Railroad, traveled through Virginia and Ohio. In the morning, you’d see for miles upon miles telephone wires glistening with spider webs. And the people were unbelievable! Living in pre–Civil War lives! But then I got into a fight with a supervisor and came home to New York. And everyone was in the service.

Why the Coast Guard?

My stepfather was a commercial fisherman, so we grew up around boats. He’d been in the reserves for years, so they made him head of this boat pool at Ellis Island.

Enest, Knox, Morris Martin (WKM's sons)We did boot training at Manhattan Beach, marching, gas masks, everything. Then we put in for a sub chaser and were sent to Mystic, Conn., to one of the most beautiful ships in the world: the 83-500. It was dark like a submarine, would submerge and turn itself upside down, depth charges underneath and rockets on the bow. We did this “bombing run” practice in Florida. They said there were German submarines in South America, but fortunately we never met one.

Normandy—it was an armada, you said.

We’re crossing the Atlantic and as far as you could see: cruisers, battleships, every kind of craft. The water was just full of ships. And the sky was blackened by planes going over, wave after wave after wave.

The Germans had a fantastic machine gun, and guys were dying everywhere all over the place—the water was littered with bodies. The invasion was threatened by a storm, so they made a harbor by sinking ships—a breakwater, 40-some-odd liberty ships. None of us slept for two nights; we were frazzled and hysterical and crazy. Then came that morning on the beachhead, lit up like the Fourth of July. There was this feeling, of being one organism with one goal, to get up on that coast and crush this thing: tyranny.

I do have to say, one of the greatest things was the atom bomb on Hiroshima. They had this little island—I saw it—where the Japanese fought to the last man. They would have done it; millions would have died. And before the bomb was dropped, the Russians were coming from the North, ready to invade. You would have had a Berlin wall of Tokyo.

You were discovered as an artist in a veterans’ hospital!

The first day when I came back, my mother greeted me—the tears. She was happy to see me but then said, “Your brother Morris, he’s gone. He was killed flying over Japanese waters.” How could this smart, great guy be gone? It wasn’t that I was divorced from reality, but the meaning of things changed, and I began to draw again. A guy came by the hospital on a project to work with “wounded veterans.” His name was Victor Kandel. I showed him what I was doing, and he said, “Hey, you’re a real artist. I would advise you to take private lessons.” So, I went to the Art Students League on the GI Bill.

In those days, everyone there was a Communist. It was my opinion that we were next going to fight the Russians. My uncle was in military intelligence: I knew what Stalin had done—how many mass graves. They would ask me, “Knox, why don’t you join the Party?” I said, “Ask me again, and I’ll see you in a rifle sight.”

Your mural, the one you’re still fighting to get made, was started as a statement about the Vietnam War.

Here’s what happened. The war starts; we’re after the Commies. It was great! Hit the Communists! Then, all of a sudden, on Sunday afternoon, what do you get on the TV? The war. It’s not an abstraction. A girl, a civilian, running from napalm. One guy, another civilian, sitting at a table, a soldier shoots him in the head. We all burst into tears. That’s why there was protest at all.

The young Knox Martin at the Art Students League

After my so-called success with the 19th Street piece [“Venus”] in 1972, I did the first maquette for this [current] mural. I tried to get it done everywhere. I figured I’d done the other one, Geraldo Rivera on the scaffold, and it would be a slam dunk! But—nothing.

You thought you had it this time, after Community Board 2 said yes and Cape Advisers [the developer of Jean Nouvel’s project] agreed to pay for it.

Two years of work, hundreds of people involved, and this one person—Michelle Cohen [of Art in the Schools] said, “This can’t be built now, or in the future.” She said, “It is not the content, not your credits.” What is it, then? Silence.

When I first talked to her, the first words out of her mouth were: “We have no funds.” I came up with the funds, and she said, the building can’t be touched for four years. I said, “The contractors working on the school say now’s the time to do it, not when the park is finished.” She said, “It’s dangerous for students.” I said that it’s on the back wall, away from the students. She said, “You can’t hang from the scaffolding; it’s too dangerous.” I said, “I’ll get a very slim cherry-picker, not me the fat guy.” She said, “Not on DOE property!” I don’t know her real objections, but it’s not over.

Any last words? Overall connections between the artist and the veteran?

After 9/11, maybe we’ll see the world waking up from 5,000 years of religious wars.

This is the infancy of Planet Earth. You don’t join a group, an army. Just be kind, look around you, and you straighten yourself out! You become a light unto yourself.

Look below for the rest of Knox’ D-Day story.

A salute to another Bronx girl- gettin on the SCOTUS!

sonia_sotomayorLast night, President Obama called all three of the women we last mentioned as potential Supreme Court Justices and told them he had chosen the very first on our list, 55-year-old New York judge Sonia Sotomayor — despite a whisper campaign that had already questioned her intelligence and called her a “fiery Latina” instead of the more respectful “potential first Hispanic Justice.” Sotomayor has more combined experience at every level of the judicial system, than any current member of the Court:

  • The Associated Press starts with Sotomayor’s compelling biography: “Sonia Sotomayor’s path to the pinnacle of the legal profession began in the 1960s at a Bronx housing project just a couple blocks from Yankee Stadium, where she and her family dealt with one struggle after another.”
  • In its May 15 profile, the New York Times calls her “Baseball’s Savior” for her role in ending the 1994 baseball strike. The Times also noted that she runs what lawyers call a “hot bench,” demanding of attorneys that appear before her bench at the Court of Appeals: “questions come fast and furious and lawyers have to be fully prepared.”
  • About that whisper campaign, which is likely to continue (as with all nominees): It began early with a much-discussed piece in the New Republic, which quoted comments from a judicial handbook and anonymous law clerks and questioned her intelligence and painted her as domineering, even though writer Jeffrey Rosen admitted that “I haven’t read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.”

American University law professor Darren Hutchison analyzes the written comments critics refer to in criticizing Sotomayor, and notes that “domineering” is not language normally used about male justices such as Antonin Scalia:

For Sotomayor, being a sharp interrogator and requiring lawyers to be “on top of it” are negative qualities. These traits are not negative in most men, certainly not white men… In Scalia, toughness is positive; in Sotomayor, it is nonjudicial. If Scalia asks irrelevant questions, he is just being a dutiful “law professor” trying to hold the attention of his class. If Sotomayor does the same thing, she is just interested in hearing herself talk. When Scalia duels harshly with litigants, the “spectators” watch in amazement. If Sotomayor asks tough questions, she is seen as difficult, temperamental, and excitable. The disparate treatment is too dense to deny.

As I said when I posted this on WVFC, we’ve been rooting for every woman on the shortlist. But I’ll be keeping extra-close watch on the cable-TV noise if they try to pull the “too aggressive” or “fiery Latina” or “affirmative action” card and try to stop her confirmation. And now it’s time to call my oldest friend, who first taught me that one doesn’t mess with brilliant kick-ass Puerto Rican girls.

not the way I wanted into the Times

Because people keep asking:  yes, that’s me.  I’d volunteered to talk to Joyce Wadler mostly hoping for some free publicity to Women’s Voices for Change.org, not realizing that my  little joke about the commercial made me quotable enough to be the lede of the story.

For the record: she mistook my monthly net pay from Chelsea Now for our rent (it was a lot lower), and she sharpened the contrasts I’d described.  e.g. I’d told her only that R and I had “fratboy tendencies,” for example, not that we always went there. And she didn’t mention the story’s happy ending; that now that Rache has a job and we’ve saved up a deposit et al., we were by then actually starting to look for a Philly place of our own.

But I’m sure I’ve done worse as a journo without knowing it. In any event, let’s hope that when my book is published, the Times will pay enough attention to consign that clip to comedy, as it deserves.

of time warps, and beside-the-point ANSWERs to worlds that can wait

Like the guy in the show above, I can’t believe it: I’m finally out of 1973. Unlike LBJ, I got  out of Vietnam, sort of. (I ended up with a 60,000-word chapter, in a book  that’s only supposed to be 110.000 words total!) I can almost say that I’m in the home stretch on this book, and am starting to frame its end – including scenes I witnessed personally (such as Ron Kovic confronting Colin Powell in 1995, when many thought the latter should be President). Meanwhile, the very lateness of the hour means I’m seeing another phase of the story take shape, as the Afghan war becomes the topic of the hour.The voices of vets like James Gilligan, who  tunneled through Afghanistan before going to Iraq, suddenly seem more urgent to hear.

But first, a little rant, about something that’s none of my business.

The months sunk into the “Vietnam years” made me feel more strongly than ever about trends I’m seeing in some of these newer veterans’ groups — stuff I keep TRYING, in good journalistic fashion, to shut my mouth about so that I can just watch it happen in real time.  It’s about the perpetual dance between dissenting veterans and groups of the sectarian left, for whom the latter are sort of a dream date.

When one young vet blithely proclaimed I could interview him at an event sponsored by World Can’t Wait, I instinctively refused, having grown up avoiding WCW’s sponsor at demonstrations in NY and Washington. I wrote a piece about WCW’s Maoist doppelganger, equally “militant” and equally cloaked in multiple spinoff organizations. Both pour a lot of money and support toward whatever young veterans they can find, support that has likely felt essential and important when the wider world is trying to ignore the wars. But the effect, throughout history, has not always been…. productive.

drillsgtI don’t want to go after those two groups in particular; and I can’t claim to be against military-civilian alliances or the need to look deeply at the power structures that sustain these wars. But witness the collapse of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1975, as narrated by  the late Steve Hassna. I met Drill Sgt, Hassna in the 1990s, and I trust his description of what he  called “The Split”:

A debate started in the organization in mid `72 about the future and what to do when the war was over. By this time everyone knew that, in fact, the war was going to end soon, just not sure when. One train of thought was we “struggle”, (that’s a leftist term, for “fight the good fight”) to see the war end. Then decide what we were all about. The other was, “We need to build an organization for the revolution, be the vangaurd, and all that other crap. Continue the fight against the capitalistic power structure and embrace a Marxist- Leninist analysis for a people’s revolution, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!!

This sort of thinking really gave most of the members in VVAW a headache, and many left in disgust. This type of thought train was coming from VVAW members and non-veterans working in the organization who had adopted that Marxist analysis. The one thing to remember is that these people were coming into VVAW to push their special agenda. They were not there to stop the war, they were there to advance their political thought. Everything from the R.U.(Revolutionary Union),R.S.B (Revolutionary Student Brigade),Venceremos, October League, S.W.P.(Sociallist Workers’ Party), CPUSA (Communist Party United States of America) and last but not least, the one, the only,the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party). Though small in numbers, they were able to get into positions of power that would let them set VVAW policy….

The ANSWER prototype was no better, at that point still working on defending Stalin and weeding out “revisionists.” Of course, back then the FBI was watching all this – having installed an impressive set of informants by then. And the FBI was also tracking the WCW precursor the Revolutionary Union, as the latter instructed its Midwest “cadre” that ““veterans are potential revolutionary force” and advised its cadre “to link up with veterans” in the “fights . . . against the Veterans Administration for benefits” because they could use any Washington demonstrations to “begin to realize our goal of linking the veterans’ struggle with the overall anti-imperialist movement.” Not to actually secure any veterans benefits, mind you; not to heal the hole in vets’ hearts or figure out why so many were sick. It was all about the “movement.”  Finally, Hassna continues:

1975wintersoldier_banner

In 1973 VVAW got a new name, and a whole new set of headaches. Now it was VVAW/WSO, VietNam Veterans Against the War/ Winter Soldier Organization. The addition of WSO meant that non veterans could join and be in positions to set policy. The left played on the guilt and pain that members had from the war. We (members) had to embrace Marx and bare our souls to our crimes against humanity. Meetings turned into political education classes, with criticism/ self-criticism periods thrown in to help us move forward for the revolution. Do I need to say how much of a royal pain in the ass all this was? On top of all this, there were people who took this crap seriously.

As you see above, they  even changed the banner on the group’s newsletter, to strongly resemble the Chinese flag.

I’ve read more scholarly accounts of this entire evolution from less folksy sources; check out tthe three major histories of the VVAW to a 1975 dissertation on the G.I. movement by a rather conservative Chicagoan who points out that the sectarian left had “different priorities.” More crucially, he added, the emphasis on “hating the brass” prevented them from making common cause with the officers who agreed with them.

No way to know whether the future for today’s rapidly-morphing soldier-dissent will play out similarly. But nothing I’ve learned in the past year has  made me feel, personally, any different from when I first saw Garett Reppenhagen, a man I respect hugely, first appearing at a podium with ANSWER streamed at the front.

I shouldn’t care about this, as a writer. There’s a lot of Yeatsian  circle-the-gyre energy to all this. But as someone who sees  the need for clear opposition to war and values the role of the soldier/vet, I do care. As the need to counter Obama-as-LBJ grows stronger, the fastest way to bury that voice in the margins is  to dress it in such ridiculous  clothing. Luckily, there are whole swaths that are already steering clear; I’ll watch as quietly as I can, to see what happens to the rest.

always with the unoccupied space: thank you, Katherine McNamara!

mcnamaraKatherine McNamara started crashing people’s expectations early – peeling off to Paris in the middle of a Cornell history Ph.D. and learning she was a poet, striking out for Alaska just as the oil boom was ending; founding one of the first prestigious literary magazines published entirely on the Internet. And ever since we met last month at WVFC’s “The Time of Your Life” luncheon, she’s been talking to us about literature, politics, publishing, why she doesn’t believe in reinvention and why her next stop might be Antarctica.

narrowrdAll it takes is to read one sentence of your book The Narrow Road to the Deep North – or even your editor’s notes in your magazine, Archipelago – to know you as a poet.

My diction comes from growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, in an area populated by so many immigrants from Ireland, Lithuania, other countries. My valley was a very interesting place, but it was a place you had to get out of. Still, there’s something I’d call a a sort of Wyoming Valley accent that I’d never heard till last year, when I first went to Ireland, heard and heard that from people there. A familiar but half-remembered music.

You really became a poet, you said, in Paris, where you were pursuing a Ph.D. in European social history.

When I got the fellowship to go there, ,a friend shook me: “you’re not going to be like other Americans who go to Paris and sing in the metro, are you? You’re going to be a writer!” But Paris also made me realize that I could be curious, I could go out there. I learned how to be a very young, pretty girl traveling in the world: how to walk, how not to call attention to myself the way we Americans always do. I learned how to walk through the world!

kathfairbanksI began to feel the call as a poetry in Paris, but I didn’t really get it until I moved to Alaska.

You stayed there for seven years – supporting yourself as a poet! You also learnef a lot, you said, from visiting poets that came to the Midnight Sun Writers Conference. Those writers included people like Ted Hughes, William Stafford.

One of my first friends in Alaska turned out to be a poet, and a man in a very influential position. He invited prominent American poets to come to Alaska. And that’s how young poet learns to do poetry: you learn it from your elders!

I really did have a calling as a poet. I lived cheaply – I wmas young! I always had low overhead, slept on couches, that sort of thing. My last actual job was with the Iditerod school district.

leegoernerkath Along the way I met Lee Goerner, an editor from New York. It wasn’t exactly that we had a romance: I think we recognized something in each other. We married in 1988, and I began writing Narrow Road in New York in 1989.

New York in 1989 —what a culture shock after Alaska!

There’s a historian who said that “1989 was the end of the 20th Century.” That was the year th Exxon Valdez went aground; that spring the Velvet Revolution, that summer the Berlin Wall fell. And before any of that, Iran issued the fatwa against Salman Rushdie — which caused a huge roiling in publishing, struck terror in many hearts.

Lee had left Knopf, where he had been for twenty years, and became editor and publisher at Atheneum; I was offered a book contract for a book about Alaska.
But as Lee published writers he cared about, he became known as a “literary editor,” at a time when publishing was changing.

With the consolidation and conglomeration of so many companies: I didn’t know who my editor was at Viking anymore, it looked like Viking might be shut down. Lee had made his life in this; he made sense of it in a different way — until 1994, when Atheneum was shut down by a new owner. Lee didn’t work from then until the day he died a year and a half later, quite young.

I moved to Charlottesville — I had friends there, it was congenial, it was quiet. I traveled a lot, and tried to figure out what to do.

Which turned out to be — Archipelago?

I was in Los Angeles and had lunch with Sonja Bolle, who was at the time editor of the LA Times Book Review. We were talking about trade publishing, the shock to it. Meaning the loss of Lee, but also of what we called the “missing books” — that the books that you’d once call mid-list were just not appearing. So I suggested to her that once a quarter or so, she feature these unpublished books, invite a wellknown novelist to review one of two of these works becoming “our shadow lit” She laughed and said “i don’t know if we can do it, but it sounds like something you should do.” I said, “Who needs another another literary review on the newsstand?” “No,”she said – and remember, this is 1996! – “you should use the Internet. It’s too democratic. But if you’re there, we’ll know where to look.”

It was an interesting idea. I thought about it: I did have a Mac laptop 540, the Mosaic interface had by then come in… And I had a little money that I wanted to devote to in some way to books, to publishing. I corresponded with a number of writers, all of whom said – “we’ve thought about doing something like this, but you should be the one to do it.”

I ruminated and I traveled a lot, came back and hired a graphic designer to do the logo and the whole site. Someone came up with and gave me the name: Archipelago. It went live in March 1997.

You hadn’t done editing before, but Archipelago was noticed pretty immediately — from the Times Literary Supplement to USA Today. The latter called it “THE place on the Web if you care about serious literature.”

archlogo-bigWhatever I knew about being as an editor, I had absorbed from Lee: it amounted to deep respect for the writer. To make a piece of writing more of itself. I had an eye for poetry, and for people who were willing to help. People were very generous.

That really big notice in the TLS — it was quite a nice note, it got us a surge of traffic. At its height, we were getting 18,000 unique page views a month.

Our final issue was in 2007; I still get queries and submissions, notes that say “we miss you.” It’s all very flattering, but what’s more important: it tells me there are serious readers out there. In the mid-90s. publishers would say there are only 60,000 serious readers, or even 40,000. But if our magazine could get 18K a quarter, that would gives you ALL the serious readers in the world! It put the lie to those claims.

Along those lines, you did a series of interviews called “Institutional Memory,” about the conglomerations that were, as you put it, “turning once-respectable trade publishers into grubby media companies.”

Publishing has always been countercyclical to the economy, and it alwys meant a small return on investment. You made enough to pay the bills, you didn’t make tons of money. “Institutional Memory” was my way of exploring: what’s happening to publishing? why was Lee treated the way he was? I called Michael Bessie, who helped found Atheneum. and interviewed him. Then I thought: this could be an interesting series. Talk to some ppl who started in the heyday of publishing, their sense of what had happened, and the authors they’d published. We started with the second issue, with British publisher Marion Boyars . The series went on for about five years! It had the energy of a conversation. it achieved what we wanted to say.

You also wrote a series of “Endnotes,” as you called them, that got more and more political as time went on.

I did not expect to write about politics. Politics is the work of the polity, the citizenry, in whom sovereignty resides under our Constitution. It is not the work of literature or the arts. It is, however, a subject of informed, carefully considered opinion. It seemed, as the Bush administration took hold, that what I saw, read, and was told gave me a perspective and language not always available to our readers, when the mainstream media were not, with certain exceptions, reporting the story accurately.

It was our early sense that the narrative had changed: that this nation rapidly lost both power and influence in the world, that our moral standing had been brought shockingly low, that the very basis of our governance was being altered without our consent. This was not a matter of mere personality; the changes in our governance since the Reagan-Thatcher years are structural. I was educated in the history of Europe and am haunted by the specter of the “good German” who went along with law and authority while his murderous government made (preventive) war on the world and its own citizens.

You closed the magazine just as the 2008 election was beginning to heat up; so we never heard what you thought about the one prominent Alaskan in the race.

clelandobamaAlaska once had very good governors. The former hunting guide, a Republican, Jay Hammond, who, in the 1970s, worked to advance sustainability of natural resources and the environment, was governor when I first lived there. I was last in Alaska four years ago, when Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, ran for Senator (against Lisa Murkowski, I think), and lost by a hair’s-breadth. Is that when Palin won? Here’s a photo of Knowles and Max Cleland campaigning in Fairbanks.

Palin is typical of a great many Alaskans, I suppose, but I hardly knew them, as I lived mostly among Native (and a number of white) people in the bush, and around university people in Fairbanks. Alaskans (rather like Americans) like to think of themselves as exceptional.

Why did you end Archipelago when you did?

I’d begun work on a second book, that took more and more of my attention. I didn’t have the attention the writers deserved. Besides….the Web had changed. We were very old-fashioned as it turned out.

peter_kalifornskyThe book is a linked series of three memoirs, of people who were notable in their parts of the world, and close to me — all linked by literary and autobiographical strands. Two, about whom I’ve written a bit already in Narrow Road to the Deep North, are ‘Malfa Ivanov’ (the name she gave me to use), who was my second mother, and Peter Kalifornsky, the late Dena’ina Athabaskan writer. The third is Lee Goerner, formerly of Knopf, and the last publisher and editor-in-chief of Atheneum.

There’s a very strong literary theme in all this. Malfa, my second mother, had decided that if I was good learner she would teach me. Peter Kalifornsky was the writer, and he was the last speaker of his language. I worked with him for several years on translations. He and I talked a lot about what it means to write a language that was only oral, only known by the people you know and their ancestors. That literary line goes on to my life with Lee in New York, and as an author.

You were a poet when you met him. But you aren’t writing poems now. You told me that New York City made it impossible, at least for a while.

I could feel it when I landed, 20 years ago. I had this sense in my stomach, my gut: I’d just landed in the heart of hard capital. For a while it didn’t matter; after all I was working on a book of prose.

kath2007-019aWhich is, as i said, very poetic. Do you see poems in your prose now, and the way you work with?

I don’t want to flaunt myself, but that’s very much my sensibility. There’s also a kind of religious sensibility, an appreciation of quiet. There are many ways in which poetry and religion meet. I think that’s where I stand, in that overlap: I stand in the protection of that space.

After all the changes you’ve been through, you really don’t believe in reinvention?

That meme for reinvention came up maybe in the 1980s — in New York people were always reinventing themselves. But in Alaska, I’d lived for years among people for whom such talk — that was a variety of lying. At the very least, it always has seemed to me a kind of whistling past the graveyard.

When your book is done, are you really going to become a visiting writer in Antarctica? You said you would love to go there with your brother, who’s a professor of astrophysics in Canada.

Last fall, I met a curator from New Zealand – we talked about his experience with Maori people, mine with Athabaskan Indians. He encouraged me to apply to the National Science Foundation. It was intriguing, because I realized: The way I know Alaska is…. because I was taught to see by the native people who were my friends. I learned to see the invisible as well as the visible world, because I was kindly and beautifully taught. But Antarctica has no indigenous people — I’m curious as to that it would be for me.
That’a what I’ve done i my life – move into unoccupied space. Not physically, as if Alaska were unpopulated — it isn’t! But I left academia because it was too restrictive and didn’t let me ask the questions I needed; I went somewhere, Alaska, where the anwers weren’t packaged. And so with Archipelago: there wasn’t much published on the Net, so…You move into some sense the unformed space, the space that’s uncolonized.

My brother says he’s not interested. But I think It would be really interesting for somebody like me and somebody like my brother to look at, to experience the same place.
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(Yes, it’s another cross-post from Women’s Voices for Change. I worked my ass off turning hours of interviews and e-mails into something. And unlike the other work I did yesterday – talking to a brilliant young Iraq vet, editing some of the book – this I actually had to finish!)

Matthis Chiroux gets to the hard stuff

I promised an update to the Hempstead 15, though the first update is that I’ve been spelling Matthis Chiroux’s name wrong all this time and none of my so-called colleagues have bothered to correct me. Mea culpa, sir, and bravo for your fortitude in following in the footsteps of that Fort Hood Three (see my “two photos” post above) and telling the disciplinary panel at Fort Leavenworth what they could do with their deployment order:

I thought of those brave G.I.’s in Vietnam who stood against the system, who worked to prevent the victimization of their brothers and sisters by resisting the continued genocide. Many went to jail. One was shot and killed while trying to escape.

I thought of my brothers and sisters in IVAW. Those who realize the humanity in us all deserves to be respected beyond what the military trained us to think. We are sacred; we are beautiful. We are not killers, we are women and men of dignity and justice.

The ‘government’ tried to rattle me by asking if I’d have objected to simply taking photos, and I told him any act to support an illegal war, from the front lines to a state-side base, was a violation of the Oath of Enlistment.

I took my leave of the witness chair feeling satisfied that everything I had come to say and do had been done, and then Marjorie Cohn walked in!

Prof. Cohn gave the most thorough, detailed, understandable and spot-on breakdown of the illegalities of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve ever heard. She focused on the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg Tribunals, U.S. Federal and Constitutional law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

She spoke with elegance and grace about some very hard subjects, and when the ‘government’ asked if she thought every Soldier in the Army who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or supported the occupations from the states were a party to war crimes, she answered honestly.

Marjorie will always be a hero to me, as well Kathleen Gilberd of the NLG, who has provided me priceless council (sic)  and support since the earliest stages of my resistance.

I had to include that call-out to Kathy Gilberd, one of the quiet muses of my book (and has written one, with Marjorie Cohn, that will end up being invaluable, even though I’ve been following it all).

The video above is of an act I hold above even the courtroom confrontation: Matthis  giving testimony, at Winter Soldier St. Louis, about having used services of sex slaves while in the military, and now realizing that not all war crimes are the kind that leave blood on your hands.

I’d promised this as an update/wrapup to the Hempstead 15 story. Tomorrow I’ll finish up, with some thoughts on the context to their story, and some overtones of the past in current events that have me worried and a bit wearied.

back to the future: Janis Karpinski speaks truth to power

Last night, it was a little disorienting to put up the post below at my other shop; when I started blogging in 2004, there was no subject on which I spent more…. virtual ink.  (Except when London had that screaming across the sky.)

karpinski

Five years ago, revelations of the torture of prisoners in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison resulted in the prosecution of low-ranking members of a military police unit headed by then-Brigadier General Janis Karpinski,who was demoted to colonel for not having prevented abuse of detainees, despite evidence that such “extraordinary measures” had been sanctioned by commanders in Washington.

This week, when President Obama ordered the release of information about Bush administration policies on “enhanced interrogation” and a new Senate report outlined the history of the development those policies, both CBS’s Early Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann turned to Karpinski for comment.

Karpinski told Howard K. Smith that she felt the report put her troops’ actions in context. “Scapegoated is the perfect word,and it’s an understatement,” said Karpinski, who has spoken freely in recent years about being a high-ranking woman and also the only general held to account after Abu Ghraib.

Col. Janis Karpinski said Tuesday that “from the beginning, I’ve been saying these soldiers did not design these techniques on their own.” She added that this week’s Senate report is “black and white proof” that uniformed servicemen and women were not alone responsible for the abuses.

Many of the procedures were adopted Iraq-wide in a memo issued in September 2003 by the Iraq war commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. According to the Senate report, lawyers for U.S. Central Command raised immediate concerns that the policy violated the Geneva Conventions, which applied to Iraq. It would be a month before the policy was brought back under Geneva Convention guidelines. Despite the revision, the abuses at Abu Ghraib had already began.

To hear former  Karpinski say plainly: “There was a direct line from the White House to General Miller to Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib” felt like the zeitgeist was quoting Book of Days – or rather Hilzoy, the professor and tireless Tiresias of Obsidian Wings, to whose visionary writing I am a gnat.

But last night, my quiet women’s-magazine self had only to present the voice of a woman who had been there. For once, I felt that we were really being a Women’s Voice for Change.

In other news, 60,000 words after I started, I seem to have gotten out of Vietnam. All that means is I get to push forward, and write about those who had trouble doing so in their hearts, as the great Lily Casura is already doing. But there’s some relief, as I imagine most felt in 1973 mixed with their anguish.

And tomorrow I’ll do a roundup on other subjects I’ve neglected here, like Matthis Chiroux and the Hempstead 15. (Writing it that way makes them sound like the guys who made the first rap record that mattered.)