15 September 2015
For the past five years, September has been the month of 100,000 Poets for Change (100TPC). All over the world, poets (musicians, artists, and, yes, mimes) have organized events on or near a Saturday in September each of those years, this year, on the 26th. For this, the fifth anniversary of 100TPC, there are over 500 events scheduled throughout the world. The readers of, contributors to and publishers of The BeZine have participated with a virtual event in the past and will again this year on the 26th.
Meanwhile, The BeZine’s theme for September also supports the 100TPC call for peace, sustainability, and social justice, with our focus on poverty in general and homelessness in particular. This focus relates to social justice in an obvious way. Yet, how could we speak of sustainability without social justice? If we still have poverty and homelessness, what is sustained other than inequality? And, without social justice could there be peace? For that matter, could peace be sustained without both justice and environmental plus economic sustainability? Our choice is not to put one of these three above the other, but to recognize that all of these three important themes, necessary areas of change, interrelate in complex ways. So we chose one aspect to focus on, and in so doing, this issue clearly points to all three themes through the lens of poverty.
We open by featuring three incredibly powerful poems by Sylvia Merjanian, Refugee, Second Chance, and Collateral Damage. Refugee and Collateral Damage come from her collection, Rumor (Cold River Press—proceeds go to help Syrian refugees). Second Chance debuts here. These poems show the relationship of war to poverty, oppression, and sexual abuse. In reading these, one senses the immense personal costs of war, especially to women and children. They provide an important window into the staggering worldwide refugee crisis, currently the largest human migration since World War II. Refugees are homeless in so many ways, even when they have a house to live in. And, the world seems to conspire to keep them destitute.
That war directly and indirectly causes poverty does not surprise. You might not know, until you read James Cowles’ essay, The Roots of Institutionalized Poverty, that something called The Compromise of 1877, which ended the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, provided the political and economic structures of poverty that continued strong through the Civil Rights Era and, in many ways, still exist today. Certainly we know that poverty is not new in the United States, and neither is homelessness. In this issue you will hear music of the Depression Era that sounds too familiar today. The first time I personally participated in an editorial process and writing publication related to homelessness was in 1989, for the University of Minnesota student paper, the Minnesota Daily. We produced a special finals’ week issue, Ivory Tower, dedicated to the theme.
Poverty and homelessness are evergreen issues historically, but issues also embedded in social and political complexity. They benefit the rich, whose economic system keeps most of the rest of us as, at best, “wage slaves,” and all too many of us in poverty, without enough to provide for basic needs or housing (including the “working poor,” who hold low-paying jobs while CEOs are paid record-breaking salaries and bonuses). Our second feature, Jamie Dedes’ poem, Some Kind of Hell to Pay, cries out against the structures of injustice, where the rich act as demigods and demagogues, and it asks of what use will all their riches be in the Hellish realm of the inevitable backlash from the marginalized and disenfranchised.
The poems, prose, photo essay, and art in the rest of the September BeZine will ask you to feel, to see with empathy, to hope defiantly, and always to resist the status quo. The writers often look beyond the borders of the U.S. or Western Europe to see the injustices of a world-wide economic system of war, greed and injustice that makes it difficult to live outside of its oppressive realities—and for those pushed out, the available choices do not sustain their lives, their dreams, or their spirits.
Yet, people live, they dream, and they hope with spirit—often in defiance, sometimes by dying (see John Anstie’s As if and Sharon Frye’s Jacob’s Ladder in this issue), sometimes by living despite all of the forces lined up against their lives. Victoria C. Slotto’s Homeless Man tells of a “destitute” man whose story reveals that he may in fact have the most rich life of any of us. Always, there is more than what we see.
Read these words. Think about the change that could help to heal creation as Michael Yost’s poem Who Am I to Judge and Michael Watson’s essay The Realm of the Unimaginable speak to. Remember the admonition to think globally but act locally. And, most of all, imagine.
Then, join us on 26 September 2015, on our blog. Add your own thoughts, your own poems, your own essays. Join in our virtual, worldwide 100TPC event from wherever you live. We will post a page with instructions on our blog on the 26th. The posts will go up live. And, after the 26th, we will organize and archive the event (see the 2013 and 2014 pages in the tabs at the top of the page).
—Michael Dickel, Jerusalem
My poem from the 1989 Minnesota Daily Ivory Tower
The plow cuts, disk or chisel?
How much of what lies below to bring up
leave exposed to dry in the wind?
What residue of last years’ crop
to leave upon the soil, cover over
to rot, return to the fertile land?
What fetish draws me along this furrow?
Street and curb meet here. Step up or down into slime.
Dust, trash tossed around and dropped by the blind wind.
What fate ties strings to which embedded hooks,
Pulls my flesh forward forever forward towards the street?
The Spring fete begins, seeds in muck
anticipating dilettante dance of the chosen few.
Weed out the hungry whose appetite starves wind-pressed grain shafts;
water the rows of the obedient who face slick harvest,
brittleness in the searing sun and death with Winter.
I move, farmer in these city streets, man among the chaff,
I offer to fetch my elegant plow-tongue, to stop the wind,
describe the deep earth and the rotted residue, the dry grasses and newspaper
blown by, salvaged for shelter by the quick grasp of an old hand,
pulled on top of gray hair to keep rain out.
I would pull the plow, but a voice from under the newspaper
covers my shoes in mud and mire.
What d’you know ’bout
from mown rye-stubble fields,
fetid earthen face
Caressed once, long ago
All you see’s a bum.
Fuck you, you son of a whore.
At home I do not wash the dirt from me,
I scrape it off, place it in a box
with a key I open my belly and
secure the box within, sated.
The weeds fend for themselves
The Realm of the Unimaginable, Michael Watson
The Roots of Institutionalized Poverty in the Compromise of 1877, James R. Cowles
Farming a Dancing Landscape, Priscilla Galasso
As if, John Anstie
Poverty Line, Sharon Frye
Jacob’s Ladder, Sharon Frye
Barometer of Bones (A Baltimore Teacher Remembers Freddie Gray), Sharon Frye
The H wor(l)d, Liliana Negoi
~ Under ~, Corina Ravenscraft
Who Am I to Judge, Michael Yost
Out in the World, Naomi Baltuck
Mother and Child, Roy DeLeon, OSB
An Art Lesson with Leslie White … music by Grandpa Elliot
nueva canción de Ameríca Latina
(the social justice music of Latin American)
Sólo le pido a Dios (with translation and brief bio), Mercedes Sosa
from the Great Depression (1929-1941)
The Ghost of Tom Joad, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen
I Ain’t Got No Home, Woody Guthrie
Hobo Bill’s Last Train Ride, Merle Haggard
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, Rudy Vallee
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, Bessie Smith
Democracy, Leonard Cohen
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