“Poetry does this to us. You can quickly either soar or drown in depression. You can have a pretty good first line but not a strong enough thought to tag along more lines and sometimes in the middle words become bored and make war on one another. Notebooks are full of these fragments, shrapnel of our intention. Life is short on conclusions and that’s why it’s often a struggle to end a poem. Some are lost forever. Sometimes you walk around with versions of a poem in your head and it won’t come clean. You are enslaved to this language of disorder and can brood upon it for days and weeks. When the poem finally does work, your spirit soars and you forget the difficulty, like you forget pain afterward. Some of the extreme behaviour you see in the poet species is likely attributable to these struggles. When the brain spends this much time enfevered it is liable to affect the behaviour which for a long period was a common joke around academia.”
Jim Harrison, The Ancient Minstrel (2016)
Maybe you were a subversive.
Part of a cell.
Or you ordered some questionable books.
Matching some profile.
Compromised by a friend.
Betrayed by a rival.
Brought in for routine questioning.
Vehemently denying all charges.
Tragically expiring while in custody.
The official inquiry tactfully deflecting blame.
A closed casket, to spare your poor mother.
© 2016 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
Photo credit: Liam Burns
“How little of ourselves we give even to the writers we love best, compared to what they asked and expected of us. Genuine admiration and respect for a writer’s work is very intermittent; usually, we think only about ourselves and how we can use what we’re reading. But this must be considered a legitimate technique of self-defense, since if we opened ourselves to all the just demands for attention made by the dead, we would be totally overwhelmed, placed permanently in the wrong. For dead writers are like gods who are always hungry, no matter how many sacrifices they inhale.”
Adam Kirsch, from his essay “Rocket and Lightship”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve increased my readings of history, economics and politics, and I think that comes from my determination to better understand the world as it is unfolding, and gain at least a few hints into what the future might hold for those of us who are left vulnerable to larger forces because of our class/caste, income, race, etc.
I’ve kept track of relevant quotes, statistics and observations by jotting them down in a black notebook, filling it to the margins. Recently I came to the last few pages of the notebook and decided to try and distill what I had gleaned from my readings into a mini-essay.
I’ve polished it some, clarified my thoughts in a few places, but tried to retain the surge of inspiration and anger that provoked its composition:
“Now and then I see the truth above the lies…”
Paul Banks, “The Base”
The uneasy truce between capitalism and democracy is breaking down.
At some point—if it hasn’t happened already—we’re going to have to choose between those two opposing ideologies and that choice will define (and haunt) our species for generations to come. Which will it be: a smoothly running corporate machine or our personal freedom?
Slavoj Zizek (among others) insists we’re living in a “late capitalist” world.
Capitalism is in the process of transforming into a more autocratic version of itself—something like China or Singapore, where individual rights, many of the privileges we enjoy as a western society, either do not exist or are drastically scaled back. Doled out in increments by an unholy alliance between state and industry.
It has gotten to the point where capitalism can no longer tolerate the constraints of democracy. Anything that slows or inhibits growth/profit, must be neutered, rendered harmless. And that can be accomplished, for example, through trade pacts that supersede or nullify a country’s legal codes and charters, fatally undermining national social institutions and standards.
Environmental laws, legislation restricting monopolies or policing the financial industry, are anathema to the one-percenters and business elite. They still exist in a magical land where growth is limitless, the stock market their personal Ponzi scheme and there are sufficient resources to sustain their extravagant lifestyles indefinitely.
Their narrative simply does not allow for maintaining a more modest standard of living, conservation, thrift, environmental stewardship…
All their talk of GNP and GDP and TTIP, but they persist in refusing to factor in the short and long term consequences of ruinous, wasteful industrial practices, mindsets that more properly belong to the notorious robber barons of the 19th Century, rather than enlightened and highly educated men and women (okay, mainly men) of today. And the toll continues to mount: pollution and ecological devastation on an unimaginable scale, with all the attendant health problems; a growing disparity between rich and poor; human populations becoming more fearful and anxiety-wracked as they face a future that no longer guarantees food security, let alone the safety and sanctity of their homes and persons.
Clean air, safe food, pure water, human dignity and basic, inalienable rights…these things are non-negotiable. In fact, they are the basis for life itself.
Why would we cede responsibility over such crucial issues to petty bureaucrats and corrupt apparatchiks?
Have we become so lazy and stupid, such sheep, that we would willingly hand the keys of liberty to our warders and bare our throats to ravenous wolves?
The Forgiveness of God
you have so much to answer for
your immunity hereby revoked
escorted to the dock
subjected to a brutal cross-examination
where were you?
when were you aware?
what did you do?
complicit or negligent?
your answers unsatisfactory
throwing yourself on the mercy of the court
contrition the last refuge
once all other appeals are exhausted
© 2016 by Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
Or, at least, that’s how it seems.
Where did the past month go? Well, I’ll tell you:
Mostly it was swallowed up by a 12,000-word novelette set in my “Ilium” universe. At one point I spent eighteen consecutive days slaving away on said project, from eight in the morning until eight at night. Fun, fun, fun.
Because for me to be at my most creative I have to be fully immersed in a work, utterly incognizant of the “real world” around me.
And so it’s been with this latest piece.
I’ve barely been reading, just some essays from a posthumous collection by the great Tony Judt. So burned out the most I can manage in terms of entertainment the last few nights are a couple of old Gene Autry westerns. I kid you not. The singin’ cowboy a balm on my brain.
But yesterday I finally printed up my “Sherron Draft” and this weekend my devoted and long-suffering wife will go through the novelette and render her verdict. And from there: revisions and more revisions until at last I’m satisfied I’ve got it as note perfect as I can.
The ceaseless grind. That’s the part they don’t tell you about in those helpful “how to” articles in Writer’s Digest or that expensive creative writing class you just enrolled in. Creation, getting words down on paper, that’s the easy part…it’s the process that comes afterward that tests your mettle. How much effort are you prepared to expend to make your story or poem the best it can possibly be? Meticulous, tireless editing. That’s the difference between genius and wannabes.
Somehow I also managed to complete an overview of a fictional Quebecois film-maker and enfant terrible, a 2000-word “mockumentary” that’s the best piece of satire I’ve written in ages. I have some plans for that one and will likely release it in the next week or so. I’ll update you as soon as there’s anything to report on that front.
…and like everybody else, I’ve been watching the political shenanigans south of the border with growing incredulity.
Here’s my two cents worth:
First of all, this talk of a “contest” on the Democratic side is a joke. Hillary has the money and power, Bernie is a nice guy with some cool ideas. Bernie represents a movement; Hillary is a fucking machine. She’s got this one wired tight. End of story.
Regarding the Republicans, I’m starting to see shades of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Name not familiar to you youngsters? He’s the dude who famously said: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice”.
Still doesn’t ring any bells?
Never mind. The point is that in 1964 Goldwater and his followers were like today’s Tea Party—pissed off about special interests and insiders controlling Washington, the whole thing in need of a radical overhaul, etc. Richard Nixon and the GOP hierarchy came to the conclusion that Lyndon Johnson, wearing the mantle of an assassinated president (JFK), was unbeatable in 1964 and decided to let Goldwater and his lunatic fringe seize the reins of the Republican party. Once they were annihilated, they would go slinking back to their rat holes and the true king-makers and lever-pullers could take back the party in time for 1968.
Which is exactly what happened.
Makes me wonder if today’s Republican poobahs aren’t intending the same thing in 2016. Let Trump and his dickhead followers lead the party to certain ruin against the Hillary juggernaut, and then regain control in time for congressional and senate elections and a run at the presidency (hopefully with a more proven, viable candidate) in 2020.
Right now the GOP establishment is spooked—their two star candidates, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have failed to produce any excitement or momentum. Bush, in particular, never looked statesmanlike and comfortable in the spotlight and clearly wasn’t interested in making a serious bid. Hopefully, we’ve seen the last Bush in the Oval Office (my daily mantra). Rubio’s been rallying of late but does he have the balls to go toe-to-toe with the Donald? That remains to be seen. He needs better gag writers and he has to take the gloves off. Marco, if you can’t manage to engage with and whup a coiffed, spoiled blowhard, frankly you don’t deserve a shot at the big chair.
I’ve been a political junkie for as long as I can remember and that sphere (especially south of the border) just keeps getting weirder and weirder.
Money has distorted the process and attaining power and stature have become the primary motivations of those seeking to represent us.
Public service? Accountability? Transparency? Ethics?
Mere words, lacking currency or value in a world increasingly fixated on satisfying selfish desires, while consciously and arrogantly absolving itself of the consequences of its greed and stupidity.
Don’t make me laugh.
People, it has been said, get the form of government they most deserve.
In that sense, today’s theatrics and hijinks don’t say much about us as a society and civilizing influence, do they?