Mujeres de la Guerra: Women’s Voices from El Salvador

These are what true women warriors look like. Mujeres de la Guerra, Historias de El Salvador (documentary, book, photography) highlights 28 women leaders in El Salvador telling their stories of participating in the Salvadoran civil war and their continued work for justice and peace today.

Thanks to Bethany Loberg for sending this to me (who continues her work accompanying the justice movement in El Salvador). And to Lyn McCracken and Theodora Simon who are working on this beautiful project holding up women’s stories.

Quotes from some of the women’s interviews:

“My message for all women is that we always have a positive attitude. That we as women, when we want something, we achieve it. And we have to continue fighting, not stay where we are, but figure out how to achieve what we, as women, want. In the world, in our country.” – Reina

“These are real things, these aren’t things from a movie, but things that we have lived. And things that haven’t been easy. Our struggle has been of a lot of sacrifice, of blood, of so many martyrs that have given their lives in this history. We will construct our future together. The problems that we face in our country aren’t just here; the crisis is on the global level. And everywhere, even in the United States, there are people that are organized and fighting against injustice.” – Yolanda

The Power of Dreaming

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898.

African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner painted The Annunciation in Paris in 1898 after returning from a trip to Egypt and Palestine in 1897. The son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Tanner specialized in religious subjects, and wanted to experience the people, culture, architecture, and light of the Holy Land.

Influenced by what he saw, Tanner created an unconventional image of the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Son of God. Mary is shown as an adolescent dressed in rumpled Middle Eastern peasant clothing, without a halo or other holy attributes. Gabriel appears only as a shaft of light. Tanner entered this painting in the 1898 Paris Salon exhibition, after which it was bought for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1899, making it his first work to enter an American museum.

Read more about Henry Ossawa Tanner here.

Video: Monks of the Desert on Today Show

It’s a funny ol’ world. You never know where grace and the monastic moment might appear.

For example, Abbot Philip (who I quote frequently on this blog) and 5 of his brothers from Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico appeared last week on NBC’s Today show!

They sang “Alleluia Lustus Germinabit” off of their new album, “Blessings, Peace, Harmony” by “Monks in the Desert.” Watch the video below:

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The lyrics are taken from the prophet Hosea: “Alleluia. Justus germinabit sicut lilium: et florebit in aeternum ante Dominum. Alleluia” (Alleluia. The just shall spring like the lily: and shall flourish forever before the Lord. Alleluia.)

Maira Kalman: Walking Wakes Your Mind

“Wonderful things happen when your brain is empty,” says artist and author Maira Kalman as she shares her thoughts on the difference between thinking and feeling, the inspiring power of walking in the city … any city. Bright and energizing. Taste and see how good it is!

Poetry: ‘If There Must Be A God In the House’

Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit
By Wallace Stevens

If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,

Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost

Or Aristotle’s skeleton. Let him hang out
His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.

He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.

It is the human that demands his speech
From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermilioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.

Excerpted from The Voice That is Great Within Us (edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1983)

Frederico Garcia Lorca: ‘The Ivory Letters Saying Ever’

by artist Khadzhi-Murad Alikhanov

In honor of Frederico Garcia Lorca‘s birthday, listen to flamenco and read poetry ….

Ghazal of Love Unforseen

No one understood the perfume, ever:
the dark magnolia of your belly.
No one ever knew you martyred
love’s hummingbird between your teeth.

A thousand Persian ponies fell asleep
in the moonlit plaza of your brow
while for four nights through I bound
your waist, the enemy of snow.

Between plaster and jasmine
your glance, pale branch of seed.
I searched my breast to give you
the ivory letters saying: ever.

Ever, ever, my agony’s garden,
your elusive form forever:
blood of your veins in my mouth,
your mouth now lightless for my death.
–Frederico Garcia Lorca

From The Collected Poems: A Bilingual Edition by Federico García Lorca, Christopher Maurer, Editor

Video: Joseph Ross Reading From ‘Meeting Bone Man’

My friend Joseph Ross has released his first collection of poems titled Meeting Bone Man from Main Street Rag. He is an phenomenal, hard-working poet who investigates the hairline fractures in our souls and applies just enough pressure to stimulate healing before we snap in two.

Here’s Joe reading to a packed house at Busboys & Poets on Sunday, April 15, in Washington, D.C. This is his poem “First and Last” (for his mom).

Acclaimed poet Ethelbert Miller says Joe 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.”

Joe also just won the Enoch Pratt Library Poetry Contest with his poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God.” See more at JosephRoss.net.

Adrienne Rich: ‘Legislators of the World’

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)
In 2006, Adrienne Rich published this essay “Legislators of the World” in The Guardian saying, “In our dark times we need poetry more than ever.” At the time she had just been awarded the US National Book Foundation 2006 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and released her most recent book School Among the Ruins. Rich died this week at the age of 82. I’m including the full essay below because I think it is so important:

In “The Defence of Poetry” 1821, Shelley claimed that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. This has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power – in a vague unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political essay, “A Philosophic View of Reform,” Shelley had written that “Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged” etc. The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded: Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft.

And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the “struggle between Revolution and Oppression”. His “West Wind” was the “trumpet of a prophecy”, driving “dead thoughts … like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth”.

I’m both a poet and one of the “everybodies” of my country. I live with manipulated fear, ignorance, cultural confusion and social antagonism huddling together on the faultline of an empire. I hope never to idealise poetry – it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal Poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming, intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed necessity, for both Neruda and César Valléjo, for Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alfonsina Storni, for both Ezra Pound and Nelly Sachs. Poetries are no more pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple. And there are colonised poetics and resilient poetics, transmissions across frontiers not easily traced.
Continue reading “Adrienne Rich: ‘Legislators of the World’”

Remembering Adrienne Rich

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

I’m taking time to savor the work of Adrienne Rich, one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century who died this week at the age of 82. She articulated what it means to be a woman in a man-made world, giving thousands a dictionary of images and phrases to describe our own experience. And more than any other poet I know, Rich was relentless in pursuing a balance between politics and art without ever sacrificing the essence of either.

On the Role of the Poet:

“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”–Adrienne Rich

On Poetry and the Capitalist Model:

“Poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom – that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free’ market.”–Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s 1997 letter to Jane Alexander, head of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Dear Jane Alexander, I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.

Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright. In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. Sincerely, Adrienne Rich (See July 16, 1997 Democracy Now interview with Rich)

An excerpt from Rich’s poem “Natural Resources,” in The Dream of a Common Language:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

A passion to make, and make again
where such un-making reigns. …

Richard Rohr: How We Carry Our Wounds

Pelican bleeding to feed her young, Sculpture, Musee des Beaux Arts, Angers

“Without a mythological context, sacred text, or some symbolic universe to reveal the greater meaning and significance of our life, we can become trapped in our own very small story. And in that limited story, without any larger perspective, our wounds can make us into embittered victims. We just keep repeating the story line to ourselves over and over, and soon it suffocates us like a python.

The Jesus way is to embrace our wounds and accept them as the price of the journey. We can choose to carry our wounds with dignity until the time comes when we forget why they were so important or debilitating to begin with. The wounds in Jesus’ hands, feet and side are still carried in his resurrected body—this is quite significant! (John 20:25-28) I think we carry our wounds until the end; they do not fully go away but keep us humble, patient and more open to trust and intimacy. The healing lies in the fact that those same wounds no longer defeat us or cause us to harm ourselves or others. My favorite mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, puts it this way, “our wounds become our honors.” —Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men, p. 135