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Monday, April 17, 2017

Some Reflections On One Hundred Published Posts

When I began this blog on April 15, 2011, I had some clear cut goals I wanted to accomplish with it and, in some ways, I was not certain exactly what I intended to do with it in the long run.  Now, after almost exactly six years, I am posting my one-hundredth blog post.  I have actually posted a few more than one hundred posts since I have previously posted and deleted a handful for various reasons.  I have accomplished a few things with this blog which have clearly made it worthwhile to continue and I have to say that, in the beginning, I was not exactly certain that I would make it a long term project.  As the masthead for this blog says, I had hoped that it could become "An ever growing site of non-fiction,flotsam, fiction, memoir,autobiography, literature, history, ethnography, and book reviews about Appalachia, Appalachian Culture, and how to keep it alive!!! Also,how to pronounce the word: Ap-uh-latch-uh."  

Partially because of my position on the appropriate punctuation of the word "Appalachia", I came to know and sometimes converse with one of the best bloggers I have ever found on the Internet,  the man who prefers to be known as Greenbriar Jim who published a blog called "Wayfarin' Stranger".  The Wayfarin' Stranger blog is primarily a photographic blog of Appalachian photographs shot by a fine photographer who also happens to write some damn fine observations about Appalachia and the world.  He has not posted on that blog since March 13, 2014, although he and I have e-mailed some in the interim.  When he quit posting, the world lost a voice it needs to hear from time to time.  In some ways, Greenbriar Jim represents a large group of people who begin and later end blogs which are worthy of living much longer lives. I am also egotistical enough to say that he and I represent another minority group of Internet bloggers who want their blogs to become more than just a means to send trivial rants, autobiographical blurbs, and meaningless drivel.  I believe that in some ways both of us accomplished that.  I have referred his blog to many people who wanted to learn about Appalachia.  

I have also received a few cogent messages either through the blog comments section or by e-mail from people who also obviously wish to see the Appalachian lifestyle and culture continue for the foreseeable future of the world.  I have connected with a few relatives of some of my long dead friends whom I have written about.  I have accumulated 49 followers as of this post which is more than many bloggers ever have.  I naturally have no idea how many of those people continue to read my blog.  Some may have dropped off long ago but forgotten to delete me from their reading lists.  That is the way of blogs and blog readers.  I also have a few on my reading list which I haven't read in far too long.  The blog has had a total of 228,500 page views as of this sentence.  The most page views it has ever had in a month was 20,917 in April 2015.  Most months it has far fewer and I have no idea why for a couple of months it flirted with the 20,000 page view mark.  A few posts such as Appalachia What's In A Name, One Appalachian Man's Opinion Of Gun Control, and The Family Cemetery And Burial Practises In Appalachia are consistently the greatest recipients of attention.  In all three cases I believe I understand the reasons for their popularity.  Appalachia is the homeland for hundreds of thousands of displaced and urban Appalachians who long to come home to the hills whether those hills be in Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, or Tennessee.  That explains why that post has more than 61,000 page views and leads the pack every month.  The blog post on gun control generates strong opinions on both sides of the issue and my side happens to favor strong gun control and rational use of guns as tools not adrenaline generators or substitutes for solid self esteem.  That explains why the gun control post has generated more than 48,000 page views.  In the Appalachian psyche, there is no more important place in all the world than the little family cemetery where each of us has buried our ancestors, siblings, children, and other loved ones.  That explains why the post on family cemeteries has generated more than 24,500 page views and has been quoted extensively in a masters degree thesis at a major university.  There are also other posts which get little attention for reasons I do not clearly understand.  Posts on Appalachian Heroes like Florence and Sam Reece, Albert Stewart, and Cratis Williams receive little or no regular visits and all of them are some of the most important people to ever live and work in the region.  

The blog also brought me a phone call from one of the more famous people I have written about here and that person bought me lunch one day so we could talk.  They referred to me as "pretty radical" and I considered it a compliment although it was probably not intended that way.  I have been contacted by one potential author who interviewed me for a potential book about Appalachia.  To date, I have not seen that book or heard from that writer again.  Maybe I disappointed them, who knows.  I am sometimes contacted by people who are doing genealogical research on the Hicks family and wish to question me about my writing or question my ideas in general.  I love a good, respectful intellectual discourse.  If you fall into one of those groups of people, feel free to contact me at any time.  My e-mails and telephone are listed and I answer all of them every time they ring.  I have been able to review a few books for some of writer friends and I hope I managed to sell a few copies for them.  I have managed to cast some of my literary bread upon the waters and I hope that some of it has floated onto fertile ground.  I sometimes find my writing both here and in other venues quoted, misquoted, and even appropriately cited.  If I have generated honest, open thought, I have succeeded.  If I have led someone to work to preserve Appalachia and Appalachian Culture, I have been extremely successful.  I am looking forward to the next six years and the next one hundred posts.  I hope you are too.  

As I reflect on what I can do with this blog in the next five or six years, I would love to continue to write about Appalachian Heroes, Appalachian Values, and Appalachian History.  I suspect that I will post less of my fiction on this blog since it has been published in other venues of late and I hope to continue to do so.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"The Hills Remember The Complete Short Stories Of James Still" Book Review

Still, James and Ted Olson (Editor) 2012  The Hills Remember The Complete Short Stories Of James Still (Lexington, University of Kentucky Press) 

Growing up in Knott County Kentucky where James Still lived for most of his 94 years, I knew about James Still at about the same time I became aware of Appalachia and Appalachian Studies sometime in the late 1960's. I honestly do not recall the first time I met James Still.  I cannot say that James Still and I were friends but we were acquaintances and I was flattered to be able to refer to him as Jim to his face.  I was also able to introduce Jim Still and my long time friend and mentor, National Book Award Finalist P. J. Laska at a James Still reading at Black Swan Books in Lexington, KY, sometime in the early 1990's.  As I recall, it was some time shortly after the release of the "Wolf Pen Notebooks". That was a highly interesting evening for several reasons.  Lexington socialite Anita Madden was at the reading wearing a pair of skin tight bright blue pants and she and Jim flirted for most of the evening.  If you have never seen an 85 year old man flirt with a 60 year old woman and find that flirtation reciprocated, I highly recommend it as entertainment especially if the man and woman are of the caliber of Madden and Still.  After the reading, Laska, Still, and I went to eat at a Shoney's Restaurant on North Broadway near the Springs Motel where he usually stayed when he was in Lexington.  We stayed in the restaurant until about 1am talking about Appalachia, literature, Appalachian Literature, Still's travels around the world, the Southern Appalachian Circuit of Antioch College writers group of which Laska and I were both members, and the triumvirate of Appalachian writers of which Still was a member, the 1929 class from Lincoln Memorial University which included Still, Jesse Stuart, and my friend and mentor as well as Laska's professional colleague, Don West.  That evening deserves to be addressed in a completely separate blog or essay and will be some day.  

James Still Photo by University Of KY

Over the years I had read large chunks of Still's writing but had never had the pleasure of reading his complete short stories.  I recently bought the book "The Hills Remember..." and plowed through it in something less than record time.  It contains 53 stories of which a couple are published in the book in two versions, usually one as it was published in a magazine and another as it was included later as a chapter of a novel or part of a major short story collection. Still  had a practice of often publishing short stories in magazines and later using them as book chapters both as originally published and sometimes with significant edits.  "The Hills Remember..." is believed to contain every extant story written by Still.  Ted Olson, the editor, did an excellent job of locating, editing and collating the works.  Olson had worked with Still prior to his death, was aware of his idiosyncrasies, and was an excellent choice as the editor.  The stories are arranged in somewhat chronological order as they were originally written or published and contain all the stories which were included in "River Of Earth", "The Run For The Elbertas", "Pattern Of A Man", and "On Troublesome Creek".  The book is an excellent way for the economically minded reader to achieve as broad as possible a sampling of Still's short fiction.  But I would not recommend that the person seeking to fully understand his prose output read the book and assume they are done.  The stories which were included in "River Of Earth" are not always exactly as they were published in the novel. There may also be slight differences in these versions of the stories included in "The Run For The Elbertas" and the other two aforementioned collections.  The stories which are included as chapters in the novel "River Of Earth" are also not necessarily published in this collection along the timeline of the novel.  If you are a real aficionado of Appalachian Literature or James Still, you will want to read his entire body of work.  Still was a widely known short story author in America as evidenced by the body of stories which were previously published in national magazines such as "Atlantic", "Yale Review", and "Virginia Quarterly Review".  This book attempts, in part, to reassert Still as a major American short fiction author in addition to his prior recognition as a novelist and poet.

The book contained several stories I had not read and several of those are well above average.  The first and best surprise I received from the book was a story called "Sweet Asylum" which is set in James Still's native Alabama.  This story is about an Alabama cotton plantation owner who is deep in debt, widowed, and seeking a way to resolve his debts and save his family plantation.  It is a masterpiece which instantly reminded me of the work of Kate Chopin.  In terms of technique, it is highly reminiscent of her classic "The Story Of An Hour".  It is not quite as masterful a work but uses the same type of double twist ending to slam doors in the faces of both the protagonist and the reader. It may well be the best short story James Still ever wrote.  James Still has so thoroughly been identified as a master author of Southern Appalachia that many of his readers either forgot or never knew that he was born and grew up in Chambers County Alabama, an area that is very different culturally and physically from Knott County Kentucky and Central Appalachia. I should state for the record that I have traveled extensively in Alabama in general and Chambers County in particular and know that area quite well.  James Still did, however, spend the great majority of his life in Knott County and Appalachia and will forever be seen as an Appalachian author.  He went to Lincoln Memorial University in 1925 and graduated there in 1929 as a member of that incredible threesome of Appalachian writers: Still, Don West, and Jesse Stuart. LMU is located in Harrogate, TN, in Claiborne County, which is just as much the heart of Appalachia as Knott County. Hindman, KY, and Harrogate, TN, are only 100 miles apart.  During his time at LMU and later throughout his life, Still was a classmate and friend of both Jesse Stuart and Don West. During that time frame, John Crowe Ransom and the Agrarians and Fugitives were key components of the literary world at LMU. Collectively, Still, West, and Stuart of the LMU Class of 1929 are arguably the best single graduating class of regional writers to ever graduate from any university in the same academic year. That is a particular feather in the hat of LMU since it is a decidedly small university with only 1,675 undergraduate students as of this writing. Still then completed a Master of Arts Degree in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  After completing his work at Vanderbilt he was employed by the Hindman Settlement School and remained in Knott County for the rest of his life.

The second observation I made as I read "The Hills Remember..." was that in many of Still's short stories there is a level of violence which could almost be called gratuitous.  Several of his stories, including one which I consider among his best, culminate in or originate from murder.  The second story in the book and the title piece "The Hills Remember" is a fine piece of work but also inordinately violent.  The main character, Old Aus Hanley "...had a graveyard all his own across Stormspur filled with men he had killed."  As the story begins, Aus Hanley is lying in a pool of his own blood after being ambushed by a drunk man, shot in the back by someone whom no one in the area  would have believed capable of murder and especially not capable of the murder of Aus Hanley.  A crowd gathers to watch Aus Hanley die.  The sheriff arrests the drunken perpetrator and stands near the victim also waiting to see him die.  The crowd all believe that one of Aus Hanley's family members who are too far away to attend the death will eventually seek revenge against the shooter.  But Aus Hanley calls the sheriff from his death throes to bring the shooter to him so he can learn who killed him.  The story concludes with Hanley pulling his murderer close to him and "...his right arm lunged in a single driving stroke toward Luke's breast...The handle of a Barlow knife protruded from his breast."  With his final dying act, the murdered man has also murdered his killer.  It is a wonderful story but the level of violence portrayed is well beyond that found in most short American fiction.

Speaking as a native of Knott County which is generally assumed to be the setting of most of Still's work, I must say that it is not a level of violence I found common in the time I was growing up there. I was born in Knott County roughly 20 years after James Still moved to the county.  I grew up in a country store in the Beaver Creek area of the county. My father was born in 1887 on Bruce at Mousie and lived most of his early life in Mousie, not far from Hindman where Still lived.  My mother had been born and reared on Rock Fork Creek in still another area of the county.  I was exposed to people from all over Knott County and the surrounding area.  Although I knew several people during my childhood who either had already or later committed murder, the area was never as violent as Still portrayed it in many of his stories.  A second story which is incredibly violent is called "The Scrape".  In that story, two men induce the protagonist to tie their arms together with a wire, take charge of their guns, and observe as they fight with knives to a mutual death.  "Jiddy produced a wire...He ordered me to tie an end around his left wrist, and the other about Cletis's.  A thing they had agreed on.  I did what I was bid do..."  The story ends with both men dead in the dirt road and the narrator heading off toward his original destination with the comment "I thought about Posey Houndshell.  Nobody stood between me and her." 

I must admit that I have not read the two books which might help me to further understand the violence in Still's fiction.  They are: "James Still In Interviews, Oral Histories, and Memoirs" by James Still and the aforementioned Ted Olson; and, "James Still: Critical Essays On The Dean Of Appalachian Literature" edited by Ted Olson and Kathy H. Olson.  What I would really love to see is a book length work solely addressing that issue of violence in Still's work. 

Still is also frequently referred to as one of the better, if not the best, writers in Appalachian dialect.  I do not dispute that he is a fine writer in Appalachian dialect.  But I will always believe that Mildred Haun is a far superior writer of Appalachian dialect.  Her classic work "The Hawk's Done Gone" is far and away the best dialect writing ever done in Appalachian Literature.  As I said earlier, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Knott County Kentucky, was educated there through high school and began my college education at Alice Lloyd College.  I was also reared by my parents, maternal grandparents, and an extended family of aunts and uncles who all grew up in Knott County early in, and in some cases before the turn of the twentieth century.  I know Knott County Appalachian dialect as well as any human on earth and I must insist that there are times when I see that  James Still wrote linguistic expressions which I never heard from my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, farmers at the livestock sales or jockey grounds, or the elderly customers at my parents' country store.  The one word which he used frequently, especially in "River Of Earth" and his short stories and which I never once heard in Knott County is "chaps" in reference to small children.  In my childhood, small children were "young'uns", "chillun", "yard apes", "curtain climbers", and several more conventional, less colloquial terms.  But they were never "chaps".  I suspect that is an expression from Still's youth in Alabama.  Getting back to the comparison between Still and Haun, I will defend Still to the degree that the two of them were writing dialect based on two different subregions of Central Appalachia.  I have also traveled extensively in the Cocke County, TN, area where Haun spent her life and did extensive research among Appalachian serpent handlers there.  The two subdialects have significant differences.  But Haun's consistency and accuracy in writing dialect is superior to James Still's.  It is also worth noting that it is only 63 miles from Harrogate, TN, where Still attended college to Newport, TN, where Haun lived her life.  I do not know that Still ever spent time in Newport but since he and Haun both attended Vanderbilt University it is possible that he did know her and might have even visited the area which would have also exposed him to the dialect which she wrote so admirably.  It is also possible that Still's travels from Chambers County Alabama to Claiborne County Tennessee to Davidson County Tennessee to Knott County Kentucky could have provided a plethora to opportunity for Still to blend the dialects of the four to a degree that not even he recognized. 

Do not allow anything I have said in this post to leave you with the impression that I do not respect and value the writing of James Still in all genres in which he wrote.  He is definitely at the vanguard of writers about Appalachia.  His short fiction can stand up well in comparison to nearly any other writer in American Literature.  The book "The Hills Remember..." is a compulsory read if you intend to believe or say that you understand the literature of Appalachia.  Buy a copy and read it sometime soon.  You will enjoy it greatly. 

Visiting The Smithsonian Exhibition At Wayland, KY

On Saturday, April 8, 2017, my wife Candice and I took a short road trip back to my roots to visit a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution at the old Wayland High School Gymnasium in Wayland, KY, which is about midway between three key points in my life: Lackey, KY, where I was born; Steele's Creek where my parents lived for the first six years of my life; and Dema, KY, where I lived with my parents until their deaths in 1970 and 1971.  The exhibition is titled "Hometown Teams" and will be touring a variety of small towns all over the country where high school sports have been a major part of local history, culture, and family life.  A full list of the Kentucky schedule for the exhibit in Kentucky can be found at this link.  The exhibit is supported by local volunteers and local items of interest and is well worth seeing at any of its stopping points. The exhibit will be in Wayland until April 22, 2017, and will move on to a sizable list of other sites in Kentucky.  If you can't catch it in Wayland, try to see it in another town near you. It is a part of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum On Main Street program.  I strongly recommend that you see this exhibition if it is anywhere near you.  The current illegitimate administration in Washington is attacking every kind of cultural, social, educational, and medical program within the federal government.  See this exhibition while you can.  The Smithsonian could be the next program under attack.  

Wayland High School & Gymnasium Photo by Wikipedia

Wayland High School Entrance Photo by Jamie In Wanderland

The exhibition is in two separate locations in Wayland.  The first is called the Gymnasium Annex which is a simple, cinder block building which sits on the site of the former Wayland Grade School on the same property as the historic Wayland Gymnasium and the sadly decrepit Wayland High School where many of my family members attended school.  The sight of the former high school with most of its windows shattered and obvious damage throughout is a powerful reminder that everything about consolidation was not good.  The grade school was demolished years ago when the property was first sold into private hands in order to build the building which is now the Gymnasium Annex which is another in a line of several lives which that building has had including its original purpose as a store.  My sister Barbara and nearly a dozen cousins attended school at one or both of the old schools.  I never attended school there since my parents left the Wayland area in 1957, the year in which I turned six and began school at Salisbury in Knott County.  But I did attend several basketball games in the gymnasium over my high school years both as manager of the Knott County Cardinals team for one year and simply as a spectator later.  

"King" Kelly Coleman photo by Gordon Moore

The gymnasium is a classic example of a rectangular wooden cracker box gym built all over the south more than a hundred years ago.  It is one of the few such still remaining and very few if any hold the history which that gym holds. The ground floor had no real concession area and limited bathrooms, few spectator seats by today's standards, and the playing floor ended so close to the end walls that pads were required to prevent player injuries.  But a lot of Kentucky basketball history was made on that floor.  The original scoreboard is still in place with large sign which lists the scoring records set by "King" Kelly Coleman on that beat up old hardwood floor.  The building is now being used for periodic league and pickup games as well as social events.  

Wayland High School was the home school for the most famous high school basketball player in the history of the state, "King" Kelly Coleman, who still holds many individual scoring records both in regular season and tournament games.  Kelly played at Wayland in the late 1950's when I was too young to be a basketball fan.  But during the 1960's, both of his brothers, Phillip and Keith, played basketball for Wayland High School.  Both Kelly and Phillip led Wayland teams to the Kentucky High School Basketball Tournament, the Sweet Sixteen.  Keith had a far less lustrous career but he and I became good friends after we both graduated from high school in 1968 and briefly attended Alice Lloyd College.  During this visit to Wayland for the exhibit, I learned for the first time that Keith Coleman had died in Lexington, KY, on January 14, 2017.  Phillip Coleman had died in Viet Nam in 1966 shortly after he played in the Kentucky State Tournament and graduated from Wayland High School.  Learning about the death of Keith Coleman and another dear friend of ours, Kim Watkins who had been a Wayland Cheerleader in the 1960's, was the one dark spot in that day for Candice & I.  

Phillip Coleman photo by the Coleman Family

On a brighter note, Candice & I encountered a cousin of mine, Charlotte Hicks Caudill, and her husband Ted Caudill at the exhibit also.  Charlotte writes a weekly column for The Troublesome Creek Times in Hindman, KY, and had come to the exhibit to cover it for the paper.  We also encountered retired attorney Jim Hammonds from Prestonsburg and Charlotte included a photo and comments about several of us in her article about the exhibit. I also encountered a relative of two other friends long dead, Avery Chaffins and Snap Conley, who had died in a car wreck at Garrett, KY, in the 1970's near a gas station which was operated by another cousin of mine and Charlotte's, Winfred Rice, who had died in 1988 after operating that gas station for many years.  Incidentally, we also drove past that gas station which was being auctioned off that morning and that also was a bittersweet moment.  I have no idea who the last owner of that property was and I would not have been remotely interested in owning it but I would have loved to be able to attend the auction. But the schedule for the exhibit on Saturdays is only four hours long and time was short. 

Keith Coleman photo by the Coleman Family

Getting back to the exhibition, it is housed both in the Gymnasium Annex and in the Wayland City Hall building just up the street.  It contains a multitude of sports trophies, athletic equipment, and sports letter jackets from several high schools in the area and is well worth seeing for anyone who grew up in the area surrounding Wayland, played high school sports, or simply just loves Eastern Kentucky History and memorabilia.  It is my understanding that as the exhibition moves from location to location it will change somewhat in the memorabilia shown in order to highlight the particular area it is in.  The Wayland Historical Society also has an excellent collection of high quality antiques in the City Hall building which would be worth seeing at any time even after the Smithsonian Exhibition is gone.  Pick a day and go to see the exhibit.  You will enjoy it just as much as Candice, Charlotte, Ted, and I, and you might also run into some old friends or relatives too. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"SEASONS IN THE RAVINE" by P. J. Laska--Book Review

Laska, P. J. 2017 Seasons In The Ravine A Suite Of Poems (Bedford, NH Igneus Press)

On February 25, 2017, I made my usual trip to the mail box expecting to find my usual nondescript collection of junk mail and bills to find a small manila envelope with the Arizona return address of my long time friend and mentor, P. J. Laska.  Naturally, my assumption was that it would be a book or pamphlet of some kind and I knew it would be both interesting and pertinent to these times and my life.  When I opened the package, my sense of surprise was raised to even higher levels.  It contained a copy of "Seasons In The Ravine A Suite Of Poems" which I had not known was due for release.  I immediately sent Laska a message of thanks and began fitting the book into my heavy pile of current reading, most of which is politically motivated these days.  I figured I deserved a break from my recent fare and began reading the book, as I do all poetry, in short sessions with only a few poems at a time to improve my retention, appreciation, and understanding of the material.  The book contains a suite of 22 poems (actually 20 interconnected poems and 2 addenda based on the Dao De Jing and other Oriental poetry and philosophy).  The poems were written more than a decade ago when Laska was still living in Beckley, WV, where I first met him in 1974 just after he became a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry.  His home in Beckley was located on a residential street which placed it directly behind Jimmy's Place, a small bar and Beckley institution for more than fifty years.  Laska's lot was on a steep hillside which placed his front door at street level and the lot immediately plummeted to the little stream far below which divided his property from that of Jimmy's Place.  His house was composed to two stories and a basement which was earth sheltered on the street side and open to the sun on the ravine side.  The peak of the roof must have been more than forty feet from the ground.  This description does not seem to bode well for a place to live but it was perfect for a Buddhist poet.  The lot dropped off from the street to the stream and was shaded by numerous tall trees.  The stream usually ran water most of the year and, combined with the trees, it made a wonderful habitat for birds, small game, and stray cats.  Laska built a small gazebo like hut just above the high water line and used it for meditation and writing.  It was an ideal situation except for the persistent possibility that one might break a neck descending from the street to the hut.  The ravine and the trees also served to profoundly baffle the traffic noise from the major thoroughfare on which Jimmy's Place sits.  

In that environment, Laska wrote the poems contained in "Seasons In The Ravine...".  He has told me that he was working to capture the flow of the seasons in that secluded spot in which he spent most of his time in those days.  The poems begin in spring and end in winter.  They are woven from cloth made of trees, birds, Buddhism, stray cats, and solitude.  They are excellent poetry and I have told Laska himself they contain some of the finest writing I have seen from him in years.  They prove that a committed man can find peace and solitude within earshot of a popular West Virginia watering hole.  They prove that an observant person can learn much about life and the world while seeking solitude.  They reflect Laska's long interest in Chinese poetry and the Dao. They are well worth reading but if you want to own a copy you need to contact Igneus Press sometime soon.  It is a limited edition.  If you do not obtain a copy very soon, you will find it only in selected libraries and personal collections.  I will not loan my copy.  

My personal favorites among the poems, which are numbered and untitled, are #4, #12, #13, and #16.  Those poems are woven together to tell stories about a poet, a long dead baby, a one-eyed tomcat, and life.  In #4, we find the poet:
"Reaching in with gloved hand, he rubbed

the name and date of a child that died before
           the age of one."

Then the poet allows the seasons to flow with their myriad gifts until we find him in #12 climbing out of the ravine toward home accompanied by a one-eyed tomcat whom he has named Marco Polo.

         "The abbot admired the one-eyed wanderer
          living his last season in retirement, and fed
          him from the bag he kept behind the door."

In #12, the poet (for many years Laska has been "the abbot" in his poetry) has bonded with a wandering one-eyed tomcat.  In my personal experience, many of the poets I have known and loved best  have been a great deal like wandering tomcats finding love, poems, and a life somewhere along an unscheduled and unpredictable road.  The sharing of food, whether with a new human friend or a wandering tomcat, is always a major step forward in a relationship, especially in the hills of Appalachia and Raleigh County. Poem #12 also shows us a deepening of the relationship between a tomcat and a poet who are both enjoying those shady days near the end of an unpredictable road in a quiet ravine where peace, understanding, and friendship are possible. 

 In #13, we find Marco Polo " wandering the silk road..." and we learn that "...It's because the small is great that hawks and owls know that the mice will continue to thrive."  Such poetry, such observation of the natural world, and such melding of that natural world into one's understanding of the human world is a great deal of what separates great poets like Laska from ordinary men who only admire the hawks, owls, and tomcats from a distance. 

Poem #16 brings us to "the frozen wanderer stiff as a board" after a snowy night and

the abbot took him to the lot of the empty house
across the stream, where he stumbled on the child's headstone. R.I.P for Marco.
a certain fate, an oracle of bones.
If you don't find him on the hill,
look in the ravine. In time
their skeletons may intertwine
and stay still while the land works
its changes..."

It is writing like that which separates poets from transcribers.  It is observation of nature like that which separates naturalists from hikers.  It is that kind of melding with one's environment which might one day  save the planet.  I would strongly suggest that you contact Igneus Press and purchase your copy of the limited edition of "Seasons In The Ravine A Suite Of Poems" by P. J. Laska.  And to repeat myself, I will not loan my copy.  Thank you, Pete! 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

1984 by George Orwell--A Textbook For These Times

Orwell, George: 1984 (Delhi, India, Pigeon Books 2009)

Recently, "1984" by George Orwell shot back to the top of the Amazon Bestseller List based on the illegitimate inauguration of the TRAITOR Donald Trump and his occupation of the White House. Please note when I refer to his occupation of the White House I always use the word in the military sense.  Since November 8, 2016, I have been diligently reading all the literature I have time to cover which addresses misfeasance and malfeasance in office, treason, totalitarian governments, the US Constitution and civil rights.  "1984" has been a classic ever since it was released in 1948.  It is a masterpiece of fiction about a futuristic, totalitarian government and was a part of that body of Orwell's work to which he referred when he said: 
"Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written directly, or indirectly, against totalitarianism.  Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one artistic whole." George Orwell, "Animal Farm" pp. vii

George Orwell

"1984" is an excellent example of that effort on Orwell's part to fuse both political and artistic purposes.  The book made him famous worldwide and its Orwellian language Newspeak has introduced several words into everyday usage such as "newspeak", "Big Brother", "doublethink", and "thought crime".  The book is taught worldwide in classes on politics, literature, philosophy, and psychology.  There is no more important time that American citizens should be reading "1984" and other works by George Orwell such as "Animal Farm" than today. The book is fiction but it is fiction with a political purpose.  It can be easily read and understood by the person who does not ordinarily read philosophy or political science.  By virtue of reading the works of George Orwell, that type of reader can begin to understand the importance of observing the actions of government and its leaders and also begin to develop skills necessary to resist destructive, disruptive, and totalitarian actions of government.  

The book is set in a fictitious, futuristic 1984 in a totalitarian government which controls literally every function of the lives of its citizens, restructures their reality on a daily basis to fit the needs of the government, and literally wipes those citizens off the face of the earth, without a trace remaining, when they no longer meet the needs or oppose the actions of that government.  The protagonist of the book is an ordinary citizen, Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth where his job is to rewrite history, both small and large, in order to meet the aims of the government.  Winston finds himself involved in an affair with a young woman much like himself.  Their love affair and joint opposition to the government lead them into the dark world of the government and its actions to control the citizenry.  

The book is now and always has been a harbinger of possible and probable tyrannies to come in the real world.  It is a billboard of truth, writ large and boldly, warning the citizens of the United States of today that such tyranny is possible and is the goal of people who are living today.  The goal of every American citizen should be to prevent such tyranny from every happening or becoming possible in this country.  We are teetering on the brink of the most destructive times in American history.  A malignant, malicious, and well organized effort, centered in the White House is working on a daily basis to deprive this country of freedom of the press and individual constitutional freedoms.  Media members have been arrested while doing their job of covering multiple news stories which were contrary to the aims of TRAITOR Trump and his minions.  Religious believers are being targeted, arrested, and deported simply because they are not members of a majority religion in this country.  More crimes against the US Constitution will come and they will come soon.  Every citizen of this country should be working to prevent the possibility of such destruction of individual and collective freedoms.  Go out and read books such as "1984" and "Fahrenheit 451".  Study the US Constitution and fight to defend it.  Learn about outspoken defenders of freedom such as Thomas Paine, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other, more modern patriots who spoke out for freedom and Constitutional Rights.  Join organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union.  Financially support organizations such as National Public Radio, The Southern Poverty Law Center, and others which fight on a daily basis to protect the rights of ordinary citizens and work to keep the citizenry informed in an honest, ethical fashion. 

The link below is to a blog post on this blog about "Animal Farm" another of George Orwell's excellent books about totalitarian governments.


"...the sure way to destroy freedom of speech and the free expression of ideas and views is to attach to that freedom the penalty of abuse and vilification...It is only from a diversity of views freely expressed and strongly advocated that sound policy is distilled. He who contributes to the destruction of this process is either a fool or an enemy of his country." Owen Lattimore in Senate testimony before the McCarthy Committee in 1950.

The quote above was delivered by Owen Lattimore during his testimony before a US Senate committee after he was labeled by the late Senator Joseph McCarthy as the number one communist operative in the federal government at the beginning of McCarthy's Communist Witch Hunt.  Although Lattimore had never been employed in the government, he had, at times, been a consultant since he was recognized as the leading expert on China in the world.  Lattimore was eventually indicted by a federal grand jury and eventually had all his charges dismissed as baseless.  He went on to write what is considered to be the best first person book about the McCarthy disaster, "Ordeal By Slander".  For several years, Lattimore teetered on the edge of having his life and career destroyed by McCarthy as actually happened to many other patriotic and innocent Americans.  Lattimore's quote above fits just as well today for TRAITOR Donald Trump as it originally fit Joseph McCarthy.  

On January 21, 2017, at CIA Headquarters, in a speech which has been negatively reviewed by nearly every writer who has said a word about it, TRAITOR Trump stated "As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth." Never has any legitimate occupant of the White House, not even Richard Nixon, taken the bizarre step of declaring a war with the legitimate press of the country.  Let me state for the record that I do not now, nor do I ever expect to, consider the TRAITOR Donald Trump to be a legitimate occupant of the White House, With the assistance and under the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he illegally seized an American election.  Now he is engaged in a plan to destroy constitutional freedoms which is based on Adolph Hitler's seizure of total power in Germany.  His "war with the media" is a key part of that plan and is being carried out on a daily basis by both TRAITOR Trump and his criminal minions.  

At least six members of the media were arrested on felony rioting charges during the Women's March On Washington as the first salvo in this felonious effort to restrict constitutional rights to a free press.  All these journalists were doing their job at the time they were arrested. They were covering the biggest news story of the day.  It was a story which had the power to negatively affect public perception of TRAITOR Trump and that is the primary reason for their arrest.  The other reason was to intimidate all other legitimate members of the media and prevent them from doing their job by bringing the truth to the American public on a daily basis.  

At least seven journalists have been arrested during their coverage of the Dakota Pipeline Protest on the Standing Rock Reservation.  Their arrests have also been perpetrated for the same reasons, to prevent their doing their jobs and to further intimidate the other members of the media community nationwide.  Once again, these arrests are part of a structured plan to destroy constitutional freedoms as originally carried out by Adolph Hitler in Germany.  

"When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 papers.
The elimination of the German multi-party political system not only brought about the demise of hundreds of newspapers produced by outlawed political parties; it also allowed the state to seize the printing plants and equipment of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, which were often turned over directly to the Nazi Party. In the following months, the Nazis established control or exerted influence over independent press organs." The Holocaust Encyclopedia. Downloaded February 26, 2017, at 4:49pm
I do not necessarily believe that TRAITOR Trump will attempt to literally seize control of all the organs of the media, primarily because very few people are working and assisting TRAITOR Trump who would be capable of competently running a newspaper.  But I do not doubt that he would  be willing to seize organs of the press if he believed the American citizenry would allow it.  He has a well established record of denying access to otherwise public events to members of the media which insist on telling the truth in their reporting.  As early as June 14, 2016, CNN Media reported a list of media organs which had been denied access to TRAITOR Trump's events over the previous year.  Just two days ago, on February 24, 2017, the Washington Post and several other media outlets were denied access to what was billed as an open press conference.  TRAITOR Trump has also announced in the same time frame that he will not attend the White House Correspondents Association Dinner as every legitimate president has for the past thirty or more years. He is obviously unwilling to face interactions with members of the press he has abused and denied access over the past several months. He also does not wish to be questioned about his failure to release his taxes, his inability to assemble an honest and qualified cabinet, and he unconstitutional attacks on Muslims and immigrants.
The US Constitution states that " Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." These actions by TRAITOR Trump which attempt to prevent the legitimate media from doing their constitutionally guaranteed job are part of a structured plan to deny, impair, and obstruct all the freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights.  The so-called Muslim Ban, which has been declared unconstitutional by several federal district courts and is highly likely to be considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court even in its newly reconfigured text which is alleged to now remove Iraq from the list of seven countries in what appears to be an attempt to look less discriminatory.  

George W. Bush, the last Republican to legitimately be elected President, spoke out in an interview on February 27, 2017, in words that addressed TRAITOR Trump's recent actions without naming and directly confronting him as Mr. Bush should have.  

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” Bush said. “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account.  Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse power, whether it be here or elsewhere,” he added. Bush noted that during his presidency, he sought to persuade people like Russian President Vladimir Putin to respect a free press." Washington Post February 27, 2017--Downloaded on March 1, 2017, at 1:52pm.
Former President Bush should be thanked for speaking out which is an uncommon act for former presidents during the early days of a new administration.  But he actually said far less than he should have and failed to directly name TRAITOR Trump.  It is now time for all the former living presidents to jointly and publicly stand up and speak from their collective bully pulpit to address these attacks against civil liberties and freedom of the press coming from the illegitimate administration in the White House.   As Bush said, "Power can be very addictive" and a megalomaniac such as TRAITOR Trump is the worst person on earth to be imbued with power.  He is mentally unstable and unfit to successfully manage even relatively innocuous levels of power.  With the help of Vladimir Putin, he has managed to seize a great deal of power and his misuse of it can only increase over time if he is not confronted and held responsible for his crimes, past, present, and future.  Just as Professor Owen Lattimore said in 1950, "...he is a fool or an enemy of his country".  I would declare that he is both.  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Two Peas In A Pod

Ever since November 8, 2016, I have been steadily and voraciously reading a wide variety of literature on several subjects including the US Constitution, the electoral process, international relations, the US Presidency, and the US Supreme Court.  I have been reading in the areas of political philosophy, history, and biography.  Rarely, if ever, in my reading do I find myself speechless but I did a day or two ago as I began a new book, a biography of one of the most reprehensible figures in American history.  The following excerpt from that book is the opening description of that figure: 
"...(He) was a pirate, and one does not, one cannot, pass valid moral judgments upon pirates.  This is meant in no facetious or superficial sense.  The close similarity between (his) character, mentality, and motives and the basic patterns of piracy is clear.  The distinction which sets the freebooter apart from the violent revolutionary, for example, or from the man who wages a war for some purpose other than plunder, appears in (him), the essence of this distinction being that the pirate is not amenable to moral laws because he recognizes none.  By the very act of becoming a pirate he has forced the moral code, which is binding on other men, to walk the plank.  A man cannot be held morally answerable to laws of which he is not cognizant; hence the pirate, entertaining no scruples whatsoever, is freed of their encumbrance....Whether we are aware of the fact or not, we do not pass moral judgments upon pirates...because intuitively we grasp that their ways and standards of conduct lie outside the confines of conventional morality...Moral conformity is not the pirate's concern. For him, rapine is no more morally reprehensible than is preaching to a parson or lending money at interest to a banker.  We may, if we are strong enough, hold the pirate sternly accountable under statute law; we may even stretch his neck; but morally he will not be answerable to us." Lately Thomas, "When Even Angels Wept" pp 1-2
Without a doubt, many of you are wondering who on earth that description could have been intended to describe.  Some of you might have already rushed to Google to learn the subject of Lately Thomas' biography "When Even Angels Wept".  The book is an excellent biography of the late, greatly despised US Senator Joseph McCarthy.  I am currently reading the book because it is a part of my study and research regimen to learn as much as possible about failures and deliberate miscarriages of justice in government, by government officials, and in defiance of the majority of the governed.  This project is motivated by my deep seated, well founded, and universally justified fear of the damage being perpetrated to American Democracy by the TRAITOR Donald Trump and his well chosen band of criminals.  At the time I began reading Mr. Thomas' book, I had no idea that his description of Senator McCarthy would so aptly describe the TRAITOR Donald Trump.  As I opened the book and began reading the introduction, my mouth literally dropped open as those first two pages, written more than forty years ago, gave a very apt description of the TRAITOR Donald Trump today.  Those paragraphs, with only the minor change of inserting and bracketing the words, "he", "him', or "his" in place of the name of the greatly reviled Joseph McCarthy who caused and led the horrible Communist Witch Hunt of 1954, serve just as well to describe the current, illegitimate occupier of the White House.  

It is interesting that during some shallow research on Lately Thomas and his work I found one review of the book by Louis Berg which takes great offense to Mr. Thomas' decision to state that we cannot hold pirates morally responsible for their actions because pirates do not accept or comply with moral standards.  However, I agree with Mr. Thomas' assessment that we cannot expect to hold pirates morally responsible but we can successfully, "...hold them responsible under statute law".  And I submit that is exactly what the country and the people must do with the TRAITOR Donald Trump.  Just as Mr. Thomas wrote about Joseph McCarthy, the TRAITOR Donald Trump "is not cognizant" of morals or laws.  We are now in the grips of an illegitimate occupation of the White House by a group who either do not understand, do not respect, or willfully disregard the United States Constitution, have no respect for the Bill of Rights or the federal courts, and are willing to abuse the rights of any person or group of persons in the country in order to gain the things they wish to have.  Rapine is not morally reprehensible to the TRAITOR Donald Trump and the gang of criminals he has surrounded himself with after having been illegally installed in the White House by Vladimir Putin and his computer hackers.  

On February 24, 2017, two native born United States citizens, the widow and son of former Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali were unreasonably detained at an airport upon returning to the country because ICE agents did not like the sound of their names even though the son, whose name is Muhammad Ali, Jr., had one of the most famous and well publicized names in the world.  Interestingly, the ICE agents released the widow Ali after she presented a photograph of herself with her late husband which is absolutely no legal proof of any level of innocence if she had actually been a terrorist attempting to enter the country on malicious plans.  We now have federal government agents, at the behest of an illegitimately constituted administration, detaining natural born citizens because they don't like the sound of their names and releasing people they have initially implied might be terrorists based simply on a photograph of their victim with a famous person.  

During the recent Women's March On Washington on January 21, 2017, six legitimate journalists covering the top news story of the day were arrested  and charged with felony rioting in an obvious attempt to intimidate all journalists who might be covering other events held to express the well justified ire of the nation with the TRAITOR Trump.  That effort to intimidate and control the media is continuing at a maddening pace by the TRAITOR Donald Trump and his minions.  Journalists have also been arrested and shot with rubber bullets at Standing Rock in North Dakota.  Those journalists have also been charged with fictitious felonies while covering the top news story of the day.  On January 23, 2017, the White House criminals in charge denied many of the major news organizations in the country admission to a rigged "press conference" by the TRAITOR Trump.   These acts are repressive, unconstitutional restriction of a free press, and a blatant attempt to control the news cycles to prevent accurate and honest reporting of the crimes and incompetence of TRAITOR Trump and his minions.  

The United States Constitution is under a daily attack by the occupiers of the White House.  Individual freedoms, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion are all under attack by a Right Wing Radical criminal and his flunkies.  At this point, we are only a little more than a month past the illegitimate inauguration and I have no doubt far worse is coming.  Indictment, prosecution, conviction, impeachment, and imprisonment are the only acts which can legally put a stop to this terrorism which is being practiced on Pennsylvania Avenue.  At this point, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and the Republican party are unwilling to act because they hope to destroy as much social, environmental, and health care legislation as possible before ever admitting that a criminal and terrorist has been allowed to occupy the White House.  Every citizen should be standing up, speaking up, and speaking out to protect the country, the Constitution, and all our individual and collective rights.  Call your congress members and senators.  Insist that they take action immediately to begin the impeachment, prosecution, and imprisonment process for the TRAITOR Donald Trump.