Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, October 31, 2011

Questions for Republican Candidates

Some questions I'd like to hear asked of the Republican presidential candidates--or any candidates [Congress, President Obama, e.g.]--in debates:

1. Do you have any close friends who live at, below, or near the poverty-line?


2. What manual-labor jobs have you held--what kind, when, and for how long?


3. Would you explain why the trickling in a "trickle-down" economy is a good thing for those being trickled upon?

4. According to generally accepted economic theory, what is the greater source of economic growth, consumer-demand (from, for example, the middle class) or very rich people?


5. Who is your favorite American poet, and why?



6. Do you have any close friends who are gay or lesbian?


7. What is a favorite novel of yours not published by an American?


8. Why do you think the budget deficit increased during the Reagan years?


9. Who is or was one of your favorite blues performers, and why?


10. In your view, does humanity face an environmental crisis?  If not, please say why.  If so, please provide a few details about that crisis.


11. What is one of your favorite comic feature-films, and why?


12. What is one of your favorite foreign feature-films, and why?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Zen Golf

re-posting one from a while ago

Zen Golf


Bow to the ball. Apologize
in advance for striking it.
Hit it with your favorite
club in any direction.
It's all a Hole out there--
the course, the world,
reality. Therefore, you

can't not hit a hole in one.
Going dualistic for a moment,
the bad news is that no one
keeps score. Even if someone
did count the strokes, there's
nothing to win. Good news
on the dualistic scale: You're

outside, the club in your hand
gleams, a bird craps on a
rich man's head, and....


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Big Guitar Blues

Big Guitar Blues

   Inspired by three works of art (assemblage and acrylic paint) by Becky Frehse:  
Col Legno Battuto, Divisi á Due, and Playing By Heart (2010)


An old guitar enlarges, disrupts my evening, goes
through the roof, and multiplies its frets on up. I fetch
a step-ladder and start climbing between the d
and f strings. In night-air soon wind strums strings
and they buzz me to my bones. It doesn’t take long
to climb past that circular cave-mouth (weird echoes)
and get  too high—nice view of city lights: I feel
as if  I had to mention  that. Knuckles numb,

I start to hum a song I think the strings imply,
as now I hear all six and keep on climbing. Where
does this neck end? Won’t neighbors have reported
this by now? Mist has wetted frets. I slip, barely
hook my elbow on the pipe-sized string, recover.

I’m old, cold, and tired. Now one by one, each string
groans like a different-voiced, mournful beast. Somewhere
in clouds, some picker’s  tuning up. O man, O woman,
I got me some of them gargantuan guitar blues,
and I got my slippers on, not shoes.


Hans Ostrom 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Of Time and the Poets

*
*
*
*

Of Time and the Poets

While Since was settling its accounts
with time, Then subsequented right on
down the line. Because pretended to be be
more than it was, as Correlation made
a difference and created some buzz.

Later, when Eventually, Never, Seldom,
and Once raided the place, narrative
lost face, story-tellers interrupted each other,
and poets withdrew to a corner where
Not-That-Much happens any time
it desires; where plots are as tedious
as blueprints, and Immediately shouts,
Can I get an Amen? and Might I Have a Beer?

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dusk: Rabbit

*
*
*
*

Dusk: Rabbit

Came home from work at dusk.
Saw a rabbit on the grass.
Turned off the car, its lights.
Got out of the car, closed the door.
Was weary. --Long day with humans.
Expected rabbit to run, sound of slamming door. No.
Talked to rabbit, rabbit not having run. Rabbit
Stared. Still. I
Said, "Hey, what's going on?" Rabbit
Hopped. Twice.  It
Nibbled clover. Much to do, little time to
Do it in. It
Kept one big eye in silhouette on me. I
Felt better, for I had
Seen a rabbit and
Chatted up a rabbit in twilight. I
Breathed. I
Looked around, And up. And down. I
Held a heavy briefcase,
Wore a heavy coat,
Saw now darkness settle.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Walk to Occupy

*
*
*
*


A Walk to Occupy

    October 15, Tacoma, part of the Occupy movement


We were constrained. By our bodies, the weather,
weariness, sidewalks, and lingering cynicism. By
our common sense, an elusive guide. By the absence
of a need to do too much--to flair or pose or (for
heaven's sake) lead. We'd had quite enough
of that bad comedian, leadership.  We showed up

in People's Park on Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Way, next door to the Johnson Candy Company
on The Hilltop. We were old, young, lithe, slow;
bound to wheelchairs, crutches, braces;
under-dressed (shorts in this weather?); bundled up;
staring; smoking; worrying; cell-phoning, texting.

We put a few signs together.  A man of 65--
everybody's capable grandfather with a
staple gun--helped. A police cruiser stopped.
The police got out--woman, man.  A woman
whose affect has probably gotten her called,
complacently, hippie for several decades
chatted them up. They left.

If I were in power (that impossibly subjunctive
mood), I might worry, if I worried about people,
about the matter-of-factness of it all.
We knew how to do this. Anarchists, long-
shoremen, teamsters, retired teachers and
shop-keepers, an entrepreneur in a three-
piece suit, folk guitarists, well appointed
women with substantial wealth.  Someone said,

of all the photographers, "One of these has to
be from the FBI.  You know--that face-recognition
software."  We were nothing to infiltrate or
subvert.  The nature of our beast was as slick
as a seal's back: nothing to get a handle on,
but nonetheless there the seal is: barking,
hungry. As if we already don't have enough to do,

we of the 99% now have to try to fix all the shit
bankerokerages, oligarchs, crazed traders, Ponzi-punks,
and our stupid "representatives" broke.  Lethal
greed and misbegotten miscalculation spring from
excess power like hollyhocks from cow manure.
It's not quite a law of physics. It might as well be.

'Occupy Group' thinks Wall Street has too much
power--is short on specifics, said a headline
in a newspaper.  That's not specific? Anyway,
we got together. We moved, as people who work
move. Steadily. Efficiently. On time. With purpose.
Go ahead. Have it your way. Ignore us.We'll see you.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jesuit Joke

A close friend is reading a book by a Jesuit priest.  I don't have the title/author with me, but I'll get it for a subsequent post.  Anyway, the book includes this joke, which Jesuits have been familiar with for a while, I gather:

A woman comes to a Jesuit priest and asks whether there's any way she can determine how her very young son will turn out.  The priest says, "Yes. Put a glass of milk, a glass of whiskey, and a book in front of him.  See which one he grabs for first."

"What will that tell me?" the woman asks.

The priest answers, "If he grabs for the milk, he'll be interested in community service. If he grabs for the whiskey, he'll have a drinking problem. And if he grabs for the book, he'll be an intellectual--and probably argumentative, too."

"What if he grabs for all three at once?" the woman asks.

The priest answers, "Then he'll become a Jesuit."

Friday, October 14, 2011

About American Colleges

I'm no expert on American colleges and universities (I'll call them both colleges), even though I've either been attending one of them or teaching at one of them (or both) since the Fall of 1971--except for a total of 3 semesters teaching in Germany and Sweden. Anyway I'd call my observations informed, to a degree, but still casual.

What American college have had and still have going for them: There are a lot of them.  Also, in most cases, they allow for late-bloomers in a way European higher education (for example) doesn't.  Some students get the hang of things intellectual and academic later in high school or even in their second year of college.  The American system accommodates them.

The system also allows for people who, for one good reason or another, simply have to go to college later in their lives.  The GI Bill alone stands as a shining example of this.

How American colleges are currently in trouble:

Well, a lot of them are broke, or at least facing tough economic times. And America itself is deeply conflicted about how much (and how) it wants to support higher education.  The California community-college and university system used to be the product of a society that was unconflicted about higher education.  One could go to a community college and transfer to the UC system, or go directly to the UC system, and get a first class education for very little money.  And society, not just the students, was better for it, in my opinion.

Now, across the board, from public universities to private colleges, students are graduating with way too much debt.  Because consumers drive the economy, and because such students are spending money on paying off loans (spending it "the past," as it were), they're not spending it on goods and services.

I think the system still does not do as well as it could with ethnic minorities.

I think state universities, especially the "research" ones, have to depend too much on outside grants.  At some universities, professors have to raise 50% or 60% per cent of their salaries through grants.  This situation has to have an effect on what they research and perhaps even on how they construct their results.   I also think that teaching at the undergraduate level at a lot of state colleges is pretty bad--because of class-sizes but also because some t.a.'s and graduate assistants aren't well trained.

Liberal arts colleges are in trouble because their endowments are in trouble.  Also, they've gotten by hoping no one will notice a blatant contradiction: All of the claim to offer a (more or less) "traditional liberal arts curriculum," and all of them claim simultaneously to be "distinctive" (from one another). Well, one wants to ask, which is it? 

Such colleges also remain very white and very upper middle-class, although some are doing better on the class side of things. Also, these colleges fall into some fallacious either/or thinking: Either you can offer a liberal arts education or you an offer an education that has some sharp focus on employment after college.  At a lot of such colleges, any particular focus on employment--except at the "career center"--is consider vocational, which in turn is considered a pejorative term.

Community colleges continue to be the hero in our story, except of course they're now asked to do way too much with way too few resources.

I think almost all American colleges find themselves in an identity-crisis, and most of them are in denial about it.  Liberal arts colleges need cash flow because they're so expensive to attend, so, under the guise of connecting the classroom to the living-situation, they may require students to live on campus beyond the freshman year, sometimes all the way through the four years.  As an astute student said to me, "It's a control issue."  It's also a money issue. Students on campus pay rent directly to the college and buy a lot of food on campus.  Under the guise of one identity, then, the college is actually and merely focusing on cash-flow.  I wonder how many students and parent see through the disguise immediately.

Meanwhile, big state colleges have to rely on semi-pro athletic programs to generate money, and on sports-crazed alumni to give money--with the attendant problems of "boosters" violating rules and students & coaches unconcerned about education.  I think big state (research) colleges have to depend too much on large corporations, too--to drive the research, which brings in the grants.

Just think if only a fraction of the money spent on recent wars had been spent on higher education.  Then think more broadly of how America perceives its higher education--and its public schools.  A society deeply divided about the worth of education and the value of spending money on education is a society in trouble.  In my opinion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Atheism

*
*
*
*

Of Atheism


Its virtue is its flaw: it makes sense.
Makes sense within the tiny room
of human experience.  It is a kind of
Puritanism (atheists are often righteous),
without the fabulous fractures, the gothic
repressions: melodrama. Some atheists,
to be fair, are entertaining as hell--
when they talk about God. Some
of the jokes are excellent. When

atheists hold forth only on atheism,
however, they become preachers,
and one can hear the creaking of
the hobby-horse and the snoring
from the back of the room. Atheism

is like a three-act play with one act,
a dull, factually accurate brochure
sent to millions, or a worn windshield
wiper. I mean, really? That's it? That's

the best you can do? Spoil everybody's
mystery, smother everyone with
an empirical pillow? I love atheists
in the way I love boulders and chores.

Atheism is a glass of tepid milk.
It is a beige uniform with the letters
this is it stitched on it in brown thread.

Atheists, bless your hearts.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shadow Storage

*
*
*
*

Shadow Storage

Home now out of sun,
you may take off your shadow,
hang it in the closet holding
other shades, or roll it up
and tuck it in a drawer.

It weighs nothing, your shadow.
Yet you feel it dragging. It's
an unsavory presence, attracting
worry, shame, regret, and doubt,
so that by the time you end a day,
you feel as heavy as two people.

It is a uniform fashion, a required
implication of light and depth.
So say the regulators, anyway--
those unamused members
of the psyche's council.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, October 1, 2011

709 [Publication -- is the Auction] by Emily Dickinson

Spiders and Company Want Inside

In the Pacific Northwest--and most of the Northern Hemisphere, I assume--this is the season when lots of small creatures want to get inside humans' abode.  Spiders construct webs near doorways, and they may be found trying to get inside through cracks.  The same goes for earwigs. Field-mice, too. And wee beetles.


So I'm re-posting a poem from Fall 2007:


Spiders’ Migration


Northern Hemisphere, September: spiders
come inside. They slip through seams
to here, where summer seems to them
to spend the winter. Their digits tap out
code on hardwood floors. They rappel
from ceilings on out-spooled filaments
of mucous, measuring the place. Sometimes

they stay just still. Paused. Poised.
It’s not as if spiders wait for us
to watch them, or even as if they
wait. Rather, octavian motion
is so easy, syncopated, and several
that stillness surely exhilarates spiders
just arriving from the Northern Hemisphere.

It’s time for us to enter equal days and
equal nights, to pluck the filament between
fear of and fascination with spiders, moving in.


Hans Ostrom. Copyright 2007.