Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
This land is your land and this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me
– Woody Guthrie
This is a hard month for those of us in the U.S. who still believe in the Rule of Law, and the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
It’s important to remember that U.S. media outlets don’t cover most of the news – they only cover the stories that are guaranteed to grab people’s attention in ten words or less. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Or if it will incite outrage on one side or the other. Doom and Gloom are so trendy.
There were undoubtedly dozens of court cases concluded with both justice and compassion this month that we never heard about – because Justice being done is somehow not newsworthy.
I can think of no better poet than Alicia Ostriker to speak for We the People who are the cynical idealists, the world-weary petition-signers, the despairing who still dream of a “more perfect union.” You can tell who we are because our allergies always act up whenever “Imagine” is played.
Alicia Ostriker (1937 – ) is an American poet, essayist, scholar, critic, and activist, who writes from a Jewish feminist viewpoint. She was called “America’s most fiercely honest poet” by Progressive. Ostriker pursued a career as an academic and a poet while also taking care of her children, and was one of the few women authors to write frankly about her experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. In 2015, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2018, she was named the New York State Poet Laureate.
When her term as New York’s Poet Laureate ended in 2021, she wrote a farewell essay, Poetry, Politics, and an American Dream.
(Full text here, well worth the read: https://www.nyswritersinstitute.org/post/new-york-state-poet-laureate-alicia-ostriker-s-farewell-essay )
Here’s the opening of her essay:
What does poetry have to do with politics? For many people, nothing at all. But in my own career as a poet and critic, poetry and politics have repeatedly converged.
When I had the honor of being named New York State Poet in 2018, I thought immediately of a deeply political poem that actually shaped history, and that happens to be the perfect refutation of W.H.Auden’s notorious claim that “poetry makes nothing happen.” The words of Emma Lazarus, engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, are so familiar that many people suppose they have always exemplified the American dream. The actual story is more interesting.
The statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States entitled “Liberty Enlightening the World,” and was intended to celebrate the friendship between France and the USA, two nations that had overthrown monarchies and established republics. Dedicated in 1886, the tablet held by the statue is inscribed JULY IV MDCCLXXVI, the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; the broken shackle and chain at the statue’s foot was to commemorate the end of slavery.(1) It had nothing to do with immigration.
Lazarus, a successful American Jewish author, was invited to submit a poem to be used to raise funds for the pedestal. At first she demurred. But a friend suggested that such a poem could offer hope to the flood of despised immigrants arriving on our shores, many of them Jews fleeing the pogroms of Russia and eastern Europe. We need to remember that nobody wanted these people—they were peasants, dirty and probably diseased, probably criminals, they smelled bad, they didn’t speak English. Does this sound familiar? These are standard accusations made by parties who reject immigration, in all times and places. But Lazarus was already involved in visiting Ward’s Island, advocating for housing, health and employment for destitute refugees kept there in miserable conditions. “Until we are all free, we are none of us free,” she wrote. She had been politicized by events …
Redefining America’s greatness not as military might but as world-wide welcome and freedom, Lazarus’ poem succeeded, surely beyond the poet’s wildest dreams, in changing the meaning of the statue, the meaning of the port of New York City, and the meaning of the United States of America. It defined us as a nation of immigrants, whose core value was that its people could “breathe free.”
Alicia Ostriker is a granddaughter of immigrants, who must have been welcomed by the Statue of Liberty as their ship came into New York Harbor.
The ghazal is a poetic form of five to fifteen couplets, typically on the theme of love, and often set to music. It originated in the Arab world around the 7th century. Influenced by Sufi mystics, ghazals spread later to the Indian subcontinent.
Here is Ostriker’s clear-eyed yet affectionate poem for America:
Ghazal: America the Beautiful
by Alicia Ostriker
Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America
The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America
We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America
I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America
School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America
What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America
Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America
Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America
We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America
Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America
Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America
“Ghazal: America the Beautiful” – © 2012 by Alicia Ostriker – first appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of The Atlantic
This is the story about Kenosha that the world needs to hear: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/11/21/2064952/-Dead-Man-On-The-Ground-Bullets-Flying-Others-Running-For-Safety-He-Ran-Straight-Towards-A-Madman