Postmodern Collage Poetry

A blog about writing collage poetry, post modern poetry, multi lingual poetry

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tip of a Spear

Recently, while trapped in traffic on North Avenue I read a church sign lauding a new Movie called The Tip of a Spear about American Protestant Missionaries in the Amazon of Ecuador and their many travails. I for one will not be paying money for this movie but I thought it gave a good opportunity to talk about missionaries.

As a disclaimer I must say that I was a Catholic missionary in 1994 and 1995 and that I have know many people who were genuinely committed to the poor and to loving the people in Bolivia where I lived. I have written here about some of them people like Fr Benoit who lived in the prison where I worked and Cathy Breen who struggled with the poor and healed them. I knew protestant missionaries as well who were the real deal. I just wish there were more of them. The Mennonites, Brethern, Methodists, many Catholics and many other groups do great work but...

The problem that I have with Missionaries is the same problem I have with Aid Workers and Peace Corp volunteers; unless you live in the country softly and respectfully and you go about things in a non destructive way, like for example Mother Teresa or Fr Damien of Molokai or Albert Schweitzer, you are doing more damage and you are making people dependent on you which is in my opinion akin to cultural genocide.

Most missionaries, aid workers and Peace Corp volunteers do good work but it would be so much better if the money was used to empower the local people rather than giving a good experience to foreigners. Power needs to be given to people to decide for themselves and no Great Commission is more important than their freedom.

My Church is the most culpable in this regard we destroyed the culture of the Americas and replaced it with a hybrid Catholicism with Local cultures. Many of the qualities of this hybrid Latin American culture have real value and are frankly my culture but also some parts of it have created dependency and a dossileness. Catholics have allot to answer for especially all that we stole from this Hemisphere.

In this movie however we are talking about Evangelical missionaries and I reserve a special place in Dante's inferno for many of them. Most Fundamentalist Evangelicals in Latin America have created a world of delusion for their faithful as destructive as the Catholic world of saints and processions. It is kind of like Jimmy Swaggart meets Julio Iglesias.

They tell people that America and American prosperity is based on living a Christian life. It is never mentioned that American prosperity is also based on other things like the rule of law, an engaged population and the fact that for 150 years of our history Blacks worked for free as slaves. The Evangelical push in Latin America was started by the CIA as a way to oppose Castro, Liberation Theology and Socialism and it has had borne great fruit almost 30% of Latin America is now Evangelical.

The religion that these missionaries spread is based on emotions and certainty like most religion. Evangelical churches are very lively very charismatic and very committed to serving the "Christians" as opposed to the rest of the society. Villages and Towns and Families are divided in many places as those who want a leg up or to set themselves apart leave the traditional world of Syncro Catholicism and they become "Christians" they begin to act and dress differently. To see someone in the Andes walking around in a suit and tie is sure sign that the person is either a government bureaucrat or a Protestant missionary.

In the case of this movie the missionaries go to a remote Amazonian village to "spread the gospel" the fact that most of these tribes/groups have heard the Gospel and have chosen not to accept it is ignored the actual choice of the people is not what is important what is important is that the world hears the Gospel so that, or so these folks believe, the world can end because when everyone has heard the Gospel Jesus is coming back.

I had a personal experience with this once in Bolivia. A group of Protestant Evangelical Missionaries called New Tribes Missions decided the way to find tribes in the Chapare was to employ bloodhounds and to seek them out and share the Gospel with them. they searched everywhere for tribes to "Convert" the fact that most of these tribes had been listening to the Gospel for 500 years and chose to do their own thing was ignored. I remember sitting with one of the blonde denizens of this group in a coffee place and she telling me how happy these people were to see them. Well wouldn't you be happy to be chased and sought after by dogs while you were living your lives?

In the end we live in a world where extremes are moving to the front. It is like what FDR said about Somoza in Nicaragua, "He is a Son of a Bitch but he is our Son of a Bitch" . The American Evangelical missionaries in Latin America are acceptable because they are our Son of a Bitch imagine if the missionaries were Islamic? Would the laudes be the same?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Generation X at 40

January 1, 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of 1966 which is viewed by many as the first year of Generation X. Allot of pablum has been written about GenX mostly by Baby Boomers who are clogging our national and international literary arteries with their laments for how connected and committed they all were and how we Gen Xers were slacker lay abouts or .com crazies. But I think that so little has been written about the realities of our generation, the first since the 1930's that will be poorer than their parents.

I seem to have lived a typical Gen X life. My parents were the first in their families to go to college. They White /Fled from Urban America to Suburban America "for better schools" which is a codeword for a place where there were no Blacks.

We all thought Ronald Reagan was "our guy", all of us had the Simon computer game you remember with the colored lights? We watched as our midwestern industrial world was washed away and we kept voting for "our guy" .

I went to Iowa in 1985 and left in 1989 we had few things to protest apart from Contra Aid and Apartheid but I was still a Conservative at Iowa it would take four years in South America to change that mindset.

I worked for three years as a volunteer in Bolivia like many of my co generationists and then went to work. I saw my career grow with possibilities and then recede with the .Com bust.I married late and now I am looking at a world where our small generation will be expected to take care of 70 million Baby Boomers, compete with 1.5 Billion Chinese and think about building a future with less than our parents had.

Gen Xers are not deluded. Our version of the American dream is small and pedestrian because their is no room for Kennedyesque musings. We are a generation that has learned to be chastened by our reality. I often feel that those of us who were born between 1966 and 1976 are an artificially truncated generation. Many of our fathers' names are on that black wall in Washington many of our siblings were never born because of the Pill. Most of our families were broken and we grew up with parents who were dating around and a loosened sense of moorings.

When I think about poets who embody my generation I think of people like Lisa Jarnot, John Tipton, Peter O'Leary and many others who embody this sense that many of us in Gen X are floating in space like a pilot ejected from a spacecraft. We are looking for solid ground where there is none.

In the end Generation X has given the world some good things, for example. But as we begin to celebrate our 40th birthdays I begin to ask the question that was offered by that most Gen X of bands The Police, "Don't Stand So Close to Me" I want to be left alone. Because we have always been alone.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Poetry, and Transcendence

Last week I went out with some local poets. Along the way I ended up talking to one of our local poetic lights about Spirituality, transcendence and poetry. The truth is that most poets that I know are not concerned about Transcendence. I do not know why this is the case but the fact is that most poets are at best agnostics.

There is a real aversion to religion among poets. Some of this aversion comes from poet's personal experiences some of it from a need to seem more progressive than they really are and some of it comes from the fact that many poet's personal lives could not fit into the moral rigors of what transcendence requires.

The fact is however that Poetry as an artform like music, visual art and dance are most spiritual . If you look back at poetic history some of the most important poets of the past 4000 years have been transcendent writers.

The litany is long but just to name a few, The Psalms, the Gita, Koran, Dante, Homer were poets who were concerned with the spirit world and how that interacts with the temporal world.

The last poets of note in the recent period who were concerned with 'Transcendence" were William Everson, Denise Levertov, TS Eliot and Thomas Merton. But it is in spite of these writers transcendent interests that they are read. It is because their work is fine not because of its content the we still read them.

I think the real problem is that so many Spiritual and Religious poets are so bad so unskilled. I know of a few contemporary poets who are 'Transcendent' who are fine poets, Kazim Ali, Garin Gycholl, a few others but so many others works are dreadful and unartful and it makes it easy to ignore this sense.

I recently went to Unity Temple here in Oak Park which is a few blocks from my house. There is something transcendent about Unity Temple. I keep looking for transcendent in poetry and I cannot find it . I look at poetry and I read allot of it and I keep looking for transcendence.

I have read over the past year allot of books, I found transcendence in Gobrowitz's diary, Skhlovsky's Night's Move in Garin Gycholl's new book, and a few others. But there is not allot out there in poetry to do for us what Unity Temple or San Damiano do for the soul.

The soul is ignored many times.

Soul food is what I am looking for, someone to encapsulate poetic architecture the way Wright does with a building. I think however to do this you need to move beyond irony. Irony and transcendence cannot co exist in the same work and therein lays the conundrum.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Poetry of Shoes

Last night, returning from a poetry reading I drove by the former factory of the Florsheim Shoe Company. Recently in Chicago there has been allot of wringing of hands over the fact that we are losing Marshall Fields to Carpetbagger Macy's of New York; but what I saw at the old Florsheim factory illustrates for me an America that is arising that is so alien. A new world where we make nothing and where we retrofit everything. the sense of sadness and loss was profound.

Chicago, until very recently was a place where we made things, Shoes, Cars, Candy, Food, Televisions and so much more. Florsheim's factory on Belmont Av is one of those places of substance. The beaux arts factory has scrollwork and a cast marble name over the door. It is being turned into 'artists' lofts. This has happened allot here in Chicago recently, Westinghouse, Zenith, Lakeside Press all these great former factories that today are 'artists lofts' .

I for one do not hate artists' lofts but I miss the poetry of shoes. I grew up in the 1970s 80s and 90s . I watched as Chicago, and regional cities in our region like Gary and Joliet suffered as factories left and people were displaced. Chicago has done better than most cities in the Midwest but it has not been unscathed. Chicago is a great place but we dont make nearly as much as we used to here anymore. Like a house eaten by termites we are slowly sagging as a nation with rich coasts and sunbelt and a middle that needs new wood.

The poetry of shoes and the people who make things for a living is near to dead in America. We have decided that China is our factory and we want to be in 'service' areas which is code for Wal Mart and low wages. I should not complain I have built allot of my career on working in International Business. I have worked in global markets is the very places where our jobs have gone. But I just feel that we are losing something. Our pensions are being elimimated, our people are becoming less than they were because they do not have work.

Last year Pope John Paul died. At a northside Polish tavern the owner put a photo of the pope over the door with bunting inside Polish men sat and drank to the pope and his life. the kind of men who go to a tavern are not the same kind of people who go to a fake Irish pub or other yuppie fern bar. That is what we are losing- people who are proud to work with their hands and create something real and solid.