E. Ethelbert Miller: The Prisoner, The Pope, and the President

emillerNewsphotoD.C. treasure and literary activist Ethelbert Miller invites America inside prison to see what we are paying for. Keep your eye on the images of a pope and a president who go “inside.” Below is an excerpt from Miller’s short essay:

If one believes Babylon is falling there is then a tendency to stand around and do nothing.

We cannot wait for a celebrity prisoner like Martha Stewart to make us want to talk about prisons. We can’t place all our attention or focus on the “outdoors” and police brutality. Nor can we talk about unjust laws and the black nets that trap and scar the sufferers. Prison is hell and the Devil lives elsewhere.

Too many sufferers coming out prison are going to show the signs of mental illness. A caged human being can slowly grow fur on a daily basis.

In September when the Pope goes into a U.S. prison the cameras will follow. One wonders how the “indoor” black men who are Muslims will receive him. How will the media respond if the Pope decides to wash the feet of black men? Might this be a reversal of the Help?

Meanwhile, our Obama will visit a prison in Oklahoma. Look for him to be surrounded by a number of white inmates. I was hoping the Brother from the White House was going to a prison in Maryland to talk to people from Maryland and DC. I wanted him to sit down in the middle of a circle of black man and talk about fatherhood, work, and reflect on the blackness of the times.–E. Ethelbert Miller

Read Ethelbert Miller’s complete essay at E-Notes.

Video: An Interview with CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou

(27 minute video)

E. Ethelbert Miller has launched “The Scholars,” a television interview series that explores contemporary scholarship. John Kiriakou is the author of Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror. He worked at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1990 to 2004. He is currently an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.

Kiriakou was the first U.S. government official to confirm in December 2007 that waterboarding was used to interrogate Al Qaeda prisoners, which he described as torture. On October 22, 2012, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to disclosing classified information about a fellow CIA officer that connected the covert operative to a specific operation. He was the first person to pass classified information to a reporter, although the reporter did not publish the name of the operative. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison on January 25, 2013, and served his term from February 28, 2013 until 3 February 2015 at the low-security Federal correctional facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

John Kiriakou is a member of a Greek Orthodox Church in Northern Virginia.

“Meeting Bone Man” For the First Time

My friend Joseph Ross’ poetry collection, Meeting Bone Man, is now available for pre-order from the Main Street Rag Publishing web site. Please buy this book.

A launch reading for Meeting Bone Man will take place on April 15, 2012, at 5:00pm at Busboys & Poets, 14th & V Streets NW, Washington, D.C. He will be reading with poet Randall Horton.

Here’s an excerpt of what you’ll find in this hauntingly authentic collection:

Grieving

Thinking of her
is kind

of a search, a voyage
of looking

for signs and moments,
shadows and gasps

of her. I still
move toward the phone

then stop myself,
a foolish son

who doesn’t remember
his mother is

dead. So begins
the search.

A hummingbird
dips into a

blood-colored flower
and I strain

my eyes to search,
to see

the other side
of my breath.

–Joseph Ross, Meeting Bone Man

Some advance praise for Joe’s book from leading poets in our time:

“I finish this beautiful, brave book with tears and a desire to run outside into blue chill day singing, calling to dogs and birds, sifting layers of elegy and affection that surround us all, gifts of recognition/recovery, precious connections and letting go, all of it at once, with our minds and our bones, yes, with everything we know. Oh brother, thank you, Joseph Ross.”–Naomi Shihab Nye, You and Yours (2005)

“Joseph Ross gives us a collection of poems that traces words down the center of the back of death. Like a graffiti artist he tags our emotions. Ross takes us from the streets of DC to the land of Darfur. After every poem we are forced to ask — what is the deep truth? When Basquiat meets the Buddha only the Bone Man can tell the tale. Ross writes like a witness to a new religion. Have faith in these poems; they are filled with the type of light the darkness would love to kiss.”–E. Ethelbert Miller, The Ear is an Organ Made for Love (2009)

“These poems by Joseph Ross in Meeting Bone Man read like translations–not from another language, but from a separate way of being, of understanding. Ross writes his way into the depths of the world in which we live, respecting and properly naming each similarity and difference for what it is–sometimes, for what it should be. This is a lovely book of poems.”–Jericho Brown, Please (2008)

Poet Elizabeth Alexander to read at Obama’s Inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander, poet and Yale professor, has been chosen to read her poetry at President Obama’s inauguration. Very cool! One of D.C.’s leading ladies of letters gets to come home and do her thing on the South Lawn. Alexander is a native of Washington and one of America’s leading poets.

I don’t know if Obama’s Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies reads E. Ethelbert Miller’s E-Notes, but he suggested Elizabeth Alexander back in July. That’s what I call visionary! (He also suggested Aretha and/or Stevie Wonder to sing. Let’s see what happens.)
Here’s Ethelbert’s poem in honor of Elizabeth Alexander from his collection Whispers, Secrets & Promises

Elizabeth Alexander

I like to say your
name because it sounds
like an era or period
in time when kingdoms
were won…

E. Ethelbert Miller

I suggest reading Alexander’s essay Black Alive and Looking Straight at You: The Legacy of June Jordan as a nice introduction to her thoughts on poetry, activism, and politics. “Poetry,” she writes, “is sacred speech that marks the sacred in our lives.” Below is an excerpt from that essay:

I have been thinking for a long time about poetry and politics through the instructive examples of June Jordan, the woman and her work. What is the “job” or the work of a poem, and what are its limitations? Why would a writer speak in the morning in the poems, in the afternoon their body while teaching or doing other activist wok, and in the evening in prose essays? What can each form do that the other cannot? Most specifically, what do we want to protect in poetry if we believe, as I do and as Jordan did, that poetry * is* sacred speech that marks the sacred in our lives?

There are poetry people who think that politics, per se, has no place in poetry. This is silly, and it is amazing how strong a hold this idea has had when it is so empty. For time immemorial, across geographies and peoples, poetry has taken as its subject politics, that is, the affairs of the polis, the community and its people. Some people think of themselves as gatekeepers, defenders of a culture, as though culture is something that can be owned by anyone. Culture is like ambient gas; once it is released, there is no collecting it and bringing it back home. This is a great and magical thing: Culture belongs to the world that occasions it. But we could usefully think about the rich and edifying aspects of form that mark discourses in particular genre. How should a poem attend to the business of its chosen form, the care and style with which the box is made rather than what is put inside the box?

Poets do have responsibility to make images that compel, to distill language, to write with model precision and specificity that is what poetry has to offer to other genres. It makes something happen with language that takes the breath away or shifts the mind. For the poem, which is after all not the newspaper, must move beyond the information it contains while simultaneously imparting the information it contains. Jordan’s commitment to poetry was constant, and it is in those words that we find her simultaneous devotion to the largest possible picture–her keen analyses of the world situation–and to the smallest detail–her tending of language.