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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. 

P. J. Laska Photo By Roger D. Hicks

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. 

Roger D. Hicks & P. J. Laska Photo By Candice Hicks

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.