Martín Espada on "killer Coke"

I'm a big fan of Martín Espada's street-wise, political committed poetry, and here (as in many other things he's done) he shows us that the commitment goes beyond setting angry words on paper: A Poet Speaks Out About Colombia: Why I Refused Coca-Cola's Money. Check out the links at that site for some of his poetry.


Literary images: Rubaiyat

These graceful drawings by Shahriar Shahriari should stir your imagination: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Trying Bellow again

I've just gotten into Saul Bellow's zany opus, Humboldt's Gift. (1975, New York, The Viking Press). Immensely clever, with translingual puns and sly (sometimes) references to everything a litteratus should be expected to have read, from Zinoviev to Whitehead, built on a loony premise. It has long been on my list of "Famous Books I Really Should Read," but I'd been putting it off because I'd been so disappointed with a much earlier book of his. I'll let you know what I think of this one when I finish it. Meanwhile, here is what I wrote about the earlier one when I read it 8 years ago.

Bellow, Saul (1956). Seize the Day. New York, The Viking Press.
A feckless fool has a really bad day. Clumsy, paunchy, 40-something Tommy Wilhelm, a failure as a salesman, soldier (he's an undistinguished WWII vet), actor (he was an extra in 1 movie long ago, when he was still handsome but no brighter), son (his distinguished father, a retired physician, finds him repulsive) & husband (his estranged wife will not divorce him, nor let him have much time with their sons, but squeezes him for money he doesn't have), entrusts his last $700 to an extravagant old con man, Dr. Tamkin (who may not be a real doctor), who gambles it on lard futures & disappears when the investment crashes.Tommy then stumbles into a funeral and weeps so at the futility of it all, the others think he must be a relative of the deceased. The end. All this takes place on upper Broadway, between 70th & Columbia U., in Bellow's version an urban shtetl inhabited entirely by middle-aged & older Jewish men. Dr. Tamkin is amusing, but otherwise there's nothing here to merit the extravagant blurbs; if it was "one of the central stories of our day" (Herbert Gold, The Nation) back in the '50s, it's neither central nor much of a story today (April, 1997).


Legislating life

I haven't wanted to comment on the Terri Schiavo case, because neither you nor I nor the U.S. Congress is qualified to say whether she is alive or dead. The physicians who examined her say that she is incapable of either thought or emotion, which means she is dead. The nervous system that was once part of her life may respond to various stimuli, but there is no Terri Schiavo there, no feeling, thinking person.

On the other hand, there are tens of thousands of feeling, thinking persons whose lives the U.S. Congress could protect, but won't. Ending our occupation of Iraq would save lots of them, taking decisive action in Darfur -- preferably in conjunction with other powers -- would save many more. On Congress's mindless interference in this Schiavo case and where it could lead, see the Los Angeles Times editorial, The Midnight Coup.