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Essay

The Kali Project: From Start to Finish

An exhaustive account of the inception and the fruition of the Kali Project by Co-Editor Candice Louisa Daquin

At the beginning of 2020

I had a conversation with Indian surrealist poet Devika Mathur about an anthology of Indian women poets. I had just edited Devika’s first poetry collection, Crimson Skins (Indie Blu(e) Publishing), and been reintroduced into the world’s love affair with Indian poets. Devika being so young and gifted, inspired me, along with Aakriti Kuntal, another trail-blazing Indian poet whom I have worked with many times, to approach successful Indian/American editor/poet/blogger Megha Sood about co-editing an anthology.

The purity of my appreciation for Indian poets writing in the English language, and their astounding ability to do this better than most native speakers, had struck deeply and fortunately. Megha Sood was as passionately interested in putting together a representative collection. We both agreed, given the current news reports of girls still being raped and molested in India, this would be our starting point and this gradually evolved into a fully-fledged project, with a book at its center.  As soon as we put a call out, we were literally flooded with interest, and this is still the case. Not a day goes by when I do not get someone asking if they can write for The Kali Project, though the submission deadline closed in October 2020. That’s a fierce testament to the level of interest and need.

When my colleagues at Indie Blu(e) Publishing agreed to publish us, Megha came up with the unforgettable and utterly perfect name The Kali Project, and Kali was reborn! I felt confident, working alongside someone of Megha’s caliber, we couldn’t fail, but it was nonetheless a daunting task for myself, a French/Egyptian immigrant to America, I needed to further educate myself on Kali and what the women of India experienced. I was very lucky to find and befriend a huge group of Indian women poets and artists who through their generosity and knowledge, more than filled my head with relevant information and ideas. They are literally a whirlwind, a force to be reckoned with, and it only left me aware of how hard Indian women work.

We wanted to ensure we had a true mix of talent. It is never sufficient to invite only famous, or notable poets, but to consider all; all kinds of voices, all levels. The Kali Project has authors and artists as young as nine and well into their eighth decade. Those just starting out, those who have been doing this a long time. Kali is not exclusive to women. It is imperative men access The Kali Project and the reception we have received from our male readers thus far, has also been very positive. What good would it ever do to alienate the entire male gender, just to get across the point, gender inequality has to end?

Inception: Indie Blu(e) Publishing gets involved

Christine Ray and Kindra Austin, the women who created Indie Blu(e) Publishing, have actively sought to publish marginalised and oppressed voices from the very inception of their company, and it has remained their primary focus. Combining incredible authors with edgy, raw writing is the core of their mission as publishers. When they saw some of their Indian sisters speaking out about another atrocity of rape and murder of a young woman in India, there was no question they had to be involved.

As Christine Ray, Editor-In-Chief of Indie Blu(e) said: “The Kali Project is another example of setting alight the inequality of women in India by sharing their talented voices with an English-speaking audience. We wanted to introduce to our Western readers, those talents within India who speak with the same fierce voice and share the same goal of equality and an end to oppression. Indian writing has gravitas and brutal honesty that has existed for millennia, influencing poets from around the world.”

Poetry lovers may be familiar with how gifted Indian writers are, but an entire collection of women writers from India, sharing their experiences is a powerful cohesion of all aspects of oppression and defiance. From the very young to experienced, renowned writers, The Kali Project brings together the voices of Indian women speaking their truths. Be it infanticide, family violence, the emerging LGBTQ community in India, or the marital inequity Indian women face, these struggles are penned in exquisite poetry to enlighten and further awareness.

The Kali Project was born from a deep appreciation for Indian authors who write so beautifully in English despite it often being their second or third language. The craft and ability of these incredible writers is furthered by their passionate, vocal understanding of caste systems, familial inequality, subjugation, sexual assault, and ultimately, survival. It is important to note, those women at the extreme end of marginalization are harder to locate for an anthology edited and published in the West in English and we wish we had been able to access their voices because they remain, the most subjugated and continue to not have enough direct attention.

India is set to become the largest populated subcontinent in the world and already influences the West enormously with their art and eloquence of feeling and expression.  Western readers can now appreciate an entire anthology devoted to Indian female poets, and their voices rising as one, for equality and respect. The Kali Project is an umbrella for all woman in India who have needed the strength of ‘Maa Kali’ during their life and speaks to every woman worldwide, who can tap into the fierce energies of The Kali and what she represents.

Indie Blu(e) Publishing continually offers the urgent subjects that matter most but are often overlooked by the mainstream. It has long been their mission to be that voice for indie authors and beyond, and they are delighted to offer The Kali Project a safe space to flourish. Having received over 1500 submissions, The Kali Project speaks to Indian women’s growing influence and power in the world, they are truly a force to be reckoned with, and Indie Blu(e) is extremely honoured to publish this collection. www.indieblu.net

Project Outcome

As The Kali Project is the most ambitious project Indie Blu(e) Publishing has published, in terms of size, we also had to address the elephant in the room; Is it appropriate for a Western press to publish Indian authors? Some had thought it wasn’t and didn’t submit for this reason, as is their right. This is how we saw it: Movements succeed when all groups of people support them. The original movements in the sixties here in America would not have succeeded as much, had people of all walks of life not joined them. Therefore, there is no exclusivity to the support of a movement. Where one has to be careful is in the handling of subjects beyond one’s experience. Hence why, even with the best intentions in the world, you would not publish a book about Black Lives Matter solely by Anglo authors, it just wouldn’t be representative or speak directly.

It felt publishing and editing a book of this magnitude required cultural knowledge and sensitivity, and we were lucky enough to have Megha Sood on board for The Kali Project. Born in India and of Indian heritage, Megha could speak directly to the experience of women in India. She also is a highly accomplished editor and writer in her own right. Additionally, we tried to be as receptive and responsive to concerns raised along the way. Of course, with any large project, it is impossible to please everyone and there were those who walked away from the project because Indie Blu(e) Publishing is an equal rights publisher, promoting feminism and LGBTQ themes.

The project was very positively received and the support and enthusiasm from the community we became a part of, has been a life-altering experience for us all. One must be particularly aware when working with a culture different from your own, but with the right team, and listening to the community, this can be achieved. The important thing is to put the people first and let their truths be heard. No wrong can come from that.

Another consideration was the graphic nature of some of the poetry received. Indie Blu(e) has not shied away from publishing graphic works. Be it in response to the #MeToo movement (We Will Not Be Silenced), the LGBTQ community (Smitten, This Is What Love Looks Like), or the recent #BLM, #Trump, #Covid-19 year of hell (As The World Burns). As a small press, we feel our social conscience is our touchstone.

Women of India have boldly addressed subjects of; rape, sexual inequality, racism, casteism, and femicide and despite some daunting obstacles, not least the threat of violence and retribution, Indian women’s courage has lent their voices an unparalleled power. The Kali Project identifies, acknowledges and emboldens that change, and aspires to act as a vehicle of social change. The graphic nature of say, a rape scene might be blatant, but it was decided that, as with most art and expression, this shouldn’t be dissuaded.

The balance of classical poetry, alongside more modern themed works, and art, lends the project a fluidity and relevance that fits the inauguration of the first female American Vice President, Kamala Devi Harris, of Indian and African heritage. We are experiencing a cultural and gender shift in how women and different races are perceived and what they are able to do in society. The poets and artists of The Kali Project are an expression of this galvanization toward complete expression and freedom of thought.

With a President in power for four years, who many women felt, didn’t speak for them, and many immigrants felt, didn’t support them, we now see the potential for change that could begin to open more ways to utilize art and language for social progress. As much as social media is invaluable, the true grit remains on the streets, with the people. Print books have gained a massive resurgence. Paper is still powerful. Maybe coming off 2020 the hardest year in a while, we’re primed for social action like never before.

All along our intention was to utilize The Kali Project as a tool for change, not simply a book. It was always our intention to effect change through increasing awareness in the West, as we had with, We Will Not Be Silenced, which was Indie Blu(e)’s inaugural publication. We were founded on the principle of equality and enlightenment. What we have personally learned from this experience has been momentous and the outcome of the project has only just begun. By opening up taboo subjects, we enable marginalised and frustrated voices to speak about continuing inequality. Indian women have done so much already but it cannot hurt to continue to highlight this in any way we’re able.

We wanted to contribute to a bigger picture. Start conversations. Shift thinking. We regret not being able to reach those most affected in India and were aware how difficult it would be to reach the most rural and poorest Indian women who do not have access to computers, who do not speak English, who cannot be easily reached on social media. As much as possible, we solicited contributions from women of diverse ages, gender identities, sexual identities, social class, oft-published writers as well as writers and artists who had never been published before.  Is Kali completely representative of ALL Indian women?  It cannot be. Can any anthology be completely representative? It’s a challenge.  We do our best, despite knowing we omit some of those who still desperately need to be heard. It doesn’t negate the value of the project, but it’s a regret.

It should be mentioned, The Kali Project doesn’t resonate as ‘negative’ and ‘bad news’ at all. Of course, there is the reality, and the reality can be very painful. It can also be joyful. This must not be forgotten. The love, enriching strength, and joy of Indian women is also borne out in The Kali Project. We were particularly moved by N. Meera Raghavendra Rao’s poem ‘My Mother-In-Law Surprises Me’, an account of the author as a young bride, and her positive experience “When two women understand each other / And feel at home with one another.

It is just as important to show all sides of being an Indian woman, for every atrocity, there is hope, and strength, and this is why Kali was the perfect Goddess to represent the project, she is multi-faceted and both nurturing and powerful. “Kali / embodies the / boundless freedom / epitome of Shakti / of strength and power / standing unbound from all / restrictions.” Mehak Varun, ‘The Kali in Me’.

Balance is everything. For every negative, there is a positive and we tried to reflect that balance throughout the collection, with hopeful poems, even on difficult subjects: “Do not call me Lakhi meye (good girl) / And tell me I’m an angel / When you only try to teach me wrongly that love lies camouflaged / within your dominant behavior” …“Stop saying I am not enough, not worthy, not great / Because I know I have conquered mountains and moons, flown / across the skies, over the waves / I have danced and taught and painted and calculated and done / everything you told me I could not.” Mandrita Bose, ‘Do not call me Durga’.

Other Influences

Just the other day I watched  Rama Rau’s fascinating documentary, The Daughter Tree (2019), and was struck again, as I have been throughout time, to the necessity of speaking up for women. In the region of Punjab, 1000 boys are born for every 750 girls.  The documentary is about a midwife in Punjab state challenging the tradition of aborting girl babies. There are other causes to care about, as a person of Sephardi Jewish descent, and LGBTQ I know this acutely. But we gravitate toward those who capture our hearts. In my case, equality.

I hear many times that equality for women is ‘complete’ and there is no need for feminism anymore. That simply isn’t true. There are countless examples of inequality persisting and those who say feminism is dead or should be dead, you wonder what the real motivation is behind that desire to shut it down? How can equality exist with statistics and realities saying otherwise? Take The Great Indian Kitchen, an Indian Malayalam–language film written and directed by Jeo Baby (2021). The experience of many Indian women and other women worldwide, is that of submissive, chained-to-the-kitchen wife, who is ‘unclean’ when she menstruates. With realities like this, women’s move for true equality cannot be diminished or ignored.

I’ve always wondered, if someone wants to shut feminism down so badly, what do they get out of that? Where is the benefit? And what is the harm in being a feminist, which only means, believing women and men can and should be equal. This is a lengthy subject, but I speak for many women in saying, as long as a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same job, as long as a woman’s reproductive rights are controlled by a system and not by herself, as long as she is told whom she can love and whom she cannot, as long as she is derided for her age, appearance, sexuality and gender, then feminism is relevant. And feminists are not man-haters. They are equality makers.

The Daughter Tree provoked a consideration I have had ever since we first talked about creating The Kali Project, which is; How do we speak directly to those most affected, and are their voices heard? I would have to say, no, the most affected voices were not heard either by The Kali Project or anything else, and that is the real problem. When you have mass poverty, illiteracy, control of female populations, then how can you speak directly to the women?

The poetry and art in The Kali Project is in part, an indirect observation of, rather than a direct experience of, for some of the authors. That’s because in India, those who are bilingual, with regular access to a computer and have the time to write, are invariably a higher income than those most affected. It is not to discount the suffering of all walks of life, but we did regret not having some way to engage with those whom we couldn’t even contact, because we are English speakers in a foreign country. Yes, that is a regret. But what do you do? Do nothing because you cannot do it completely? Or hope that by starting a dialogue you are making inroads? I would say the latter.

That said, it is our wish always to be inclusive, to show all sides of something, to give everyone a chance to speak. It was a frustration watching The Daughter Tree, not to have been able to reach those women and girls who cannot write, nor speak in a foreign language, nor have access to a computer. I would dearly have liked to have their stories and shared their views. Because until we do, we risk having a very selective approach to a multi-facetted, complicated subject. As The Daughter Tree points out, there are reasons for some of the traditions enduring, there are factors of consideration and outcomes borne from no better option, and until we address all of those, maybe nothing will really change.

But with awareness, comes progress, and whilst many girls are still sold into marriage or married very young and denied choices and education, the shift comes in all directions and we hope The Kali Project will contribute to this shift. As women, we all know there is work to be done in every country, India is not alone, and that was the point, to ensure Indian women knew, their sisters in other countries were watching, they heard them, they stood with them. Just as when Black Lives Matter movements occurred in the USA, they were taken up by people in all countries. It is that universalism bequeathed us by technology, we can harness and run with.

Finally, the financial considerations related to The Kali Project were long discussed. It has never been our goal to indiscriminately profit from authors, as anyone who works in publishing can attest, this is a lofty goal at the best of times. Indie Blu(e) has actively sought to promote affordable, worldwide publications that can be purchased by everyone, hence why we publish in Kindle and print. The Kali Project’s contributors are primarily based in India, as such we harnessed Pothi, who are based in India, to be another more affordable option for purchasing. In addition, we are set to produce a hardback version of the book for collectors.

For some, a poem’s title alone will stand as testimony: “Disrupting boundaries / Challenging the forecasts / Mocking at man-made wonders.” (Kaikasi V. S., ‘Why are Cyclones Named After Women?’) Others are simply universal in their gendered strength: “I have all the light I need; you’re here, stuck with me.” (Himangi Nair, ‘light & dark’). Some poems just resonate with rebellion and honed fortitude: “No one looked into our eyes with love. / If they had, they’d have heard our souls talk. / Instead, all they said was / She’s hysterical. Women are like that, / especially when they menstruate, / especially when they stop menstruating, / especially as they approach death.” (Anna Sujatha Mathai, ‘Hysteria’). It is truly rare to find a book at 600 pages where you keep going from one incredible read to another.

Kali as received by others

Of all the anthologies I have worked on, I have never seen such an enthusiastic outpouring and this included the terrific reviews we received. I share but a fraction with you:

Featuring poets from India and the diaspora, creating the bond of shared experiences across continents The Kali Project draws in the voices of women as women, and women as professionals – teachers, mental health workers, writers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, social workers – adding newer dimensions and a sharper understanding of the inner realities that are sought to be silenced by the patriarchal structures which society, religion, community, and class sanction and sanctify.”

— Charanjeet Kaur, Former Chief Editor and Features Editor of Muse India, and currently the Contributory Editor for Indian writing in English of MI. Consultant Editor of the SPARROW (Sound & Picture Archives for Research On Women)

From my love of history, I was acquainted with the basics of the Hindu faith and one of their goddesses, Kali/Devi. It was immediately apparent, reading The Kali Project, why Kali had been chosen to represent this poetry anthology. To many in India, irrespective of faith, the depiction of Kali is a sign of a woman’s strength. Whilst Kali is both death and goddess, she has a strong nurturing/mother-figure side with the possibility of compassion. In this, we can contrast her with the Christian Virgin Mary. Kali exceeds the potential power of any idol, because she has an active persona, her ‘shakti’ (feminine energy) is a reality and she has several expressive incantations that give her a wide range within the Hindu faith. Thus, it is no wonder Kail became the natural spearhead of The Kali Project.

— Dr. Belinda Román, Economist/Researcher/Historian

“Fierce feminine energy of Kali is rising today so that we can save ourselves from total annihilation. This volume is a sublime expression of that emergence.”

— Dr. Neela Bhattacharya Saxena, Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Nassau Community College, USA. An academic expert on Kali, Dr. Saxena wrote our detailed foreword and continually supported this project of women speaking their truth.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

Core Values

A discussion by Candice Louisa Daquin based on reading Candace Owens’ book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation

According to the author, Candace Owens:

Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish.
Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black.
A biological man is NOT a woman.
A biological female will never be a man.

These people are just ‘playing pretend’ and as such, it’s not real. Obviously, her rhetoric has caused a mixed response. Many would agree with the first two examples, and be offended by the last two. Yet in some ways, the same argument is being used. Let’s pick this apart some.

Candace Owens in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation makes some points that really question what we assume. She’s not politically correct and maybe that’s not such a bad thing in some regards, although how far we can take this, is still up for debate.

When white people (identified as people with white skin) appropriate ‘white guilt’ they can be argued to be patronizing the experiences of the non-white on behalf of whom they experience guilt. It is worth pointing out, few of us come from one racial lineage, few, aside ironically the Nazis, have ever put a ‘number’ on the quota of DNA we need to possess to ‘belong’ to a single group (Native Americans and Jews define based on blood quota but they also accept people into their groups who do not possess this specific blood quota, through marriage and religious conversion). As much as we may want to quantify ‘belonging’ using race, it’s immediately challenging when we get clear exceptions to the stereotype of what we ‘perceive’ as solid racial identifiers, and that’s happening more and more as we become more homogenized and universal.

It used to be we argued a man’s propensity for violence, criminality, lunacy, based on his physiognomy and that perspective of ‘telling what someone is by how they look’ hasn’t left us as much as it should have. Whilst we may have stopped assuming men with big noses are Jewish, we continue to judge when we say someone is black because their skin is not white, or white, because their skin is not black. It leaves too many in-betweens out.

It can be argued that the guilt associated with past historic colonialism or racism is owning one’s ancestors’ ‘mistakes’ or, contextualizing based on the past culture and the time-period by stating that such practices are not longer socially acceptable and were never acceptable morally. Surely that is a very good thing?

The reverse argument looks unapologetically at things in their time period and context only. If a former President used a racist word, it may have been the usage in a racist society, and we are not in that context any longer. Nonetheless racism is racism. So, was it the President who was racist? Was the use of the word racist? Or was it par for the course and if so, is that acceptable in historical context? Should we eradicate any mention of that President, should we give reparation? What should we do to ensure we’re inclusive today about something we feel is intolerable?

For example, when we tear down ‘heroes’ of the past for being racist, we demolish role models who have been beloved for centuries. This causes very strong feelings from both sides. Winston Churchill was apparently quite the racist, but he also saved a continent in WW2, do we eliminate his statue and eliminate him or do we forgive him (and can we ever condone forgiveness for an atrocity, and what constitutes an atrocity versus ignorance) for his racism in context or do we put it in its social milieu? Those are all questions that have many aspects to them.

Take a President who has mixed-race children in a consensual relationship with a black woman, and who loves all his children, but still uses the ‘N-Word’ and has slaves? What about the black men who had black slaves? What of the child who is of mixed-race but passes as white? How about the woman who chooses to be with the President even though she’s at a disadvantage? Where do we quantify the level of disadvantage to understand the inequity and thus, discover the guilty party and misjustice committed? Why would we use this calculation for some scenarios but not others? Why do we pick and choose our outrages?

Imagine you are a woman who was raped, can you understand people like Steven Spielberg saying that Roman Polanski should be ‘forgiven’ because he’s paid his dues (by being exiled, which was really him on the run for decades, in relative luxury) for his child-abuse and other sexual assault charges (which he absconded to Europe from, instead of facing justice). Do you condemn Spielberg et al as being ‘male heterodoxy’ or patriarchy gone wild? Same with Woody Allen. Same with Bukowski. We pick and choose our villains. We could even argue, if we changed the colour of the villain would our response be different and if so, why?

The argument in the artworld, given how many ‘creatives’ commit atrocious acts, has always been ‘try to separate the artist from the act’ but when do you stop doing that? If you found out Woody Allen called black people the “N Word’ would you say that’s enough I can’t support him? What if he called gays, “fags and degenerates” — would that be enough? When David Bowie died and it came out, he wasn’t the paragon of virtue, people said; Oh, but he was so talented, he is my hero, I can’t give him up. When Michael Jackson was revealed to be a paedophile, people said; But he had a hard childhood it wasn’t his fault. When we excuse one and not the other, what message are we sending? Same with Bill Cosby and those ‘father’s we adored on TV growing up.

When Larry King died, the dialogue focused on his positive impact in society and little was said about the accusations of sexual misconduct that caused him to step down from his late-night show. Is that because ‘now is not the time to mention those things?’ When did that rule get applied? What if we changed the gender, would men be as forgiving of not mentioning it? Look at the discrepancies given in sentencing between those with money and influence versus those without and men versus women. Had Aileen Wuornos more money, maybe she wouldn’t have got the death penalty? How much of why she was punished that harshly was to do with not understanding the body politic and the survivor? Just as we dismiss those without celebrity attorneys. We know ‘justice’ isn’t blind or fair, but what about us? Do we analyze and judge fairly?

Is it right of us as a society and as an individual to ever pick and choose ‘what is enough’ and if we do, what are we saying about those things we decide are ‘not’ enough? In other words, if we argue that we like Bukowski because we divorce who he was in his personal life from his life as an incredibly talented writer, then we’re saying those acts were ‘not enough’ but if we find out he used the “N Word” how many of us would then agree it ‘was enough’ to condemn him and divorce him from his artistic-license?

In other words, is it ever acceptable to pick and choose without diminishing what we ‘choose’ not to condemn a person for?

I suspect, if any large name white artist of any kind were to go around saying the “N Word” and “fags and degenerates” many people would stop supporting them. But if that same artist were to go around saying “I’m anti-Muslim” or “I’m anti-Jewish” or we found out they were implicated in a #metoo outcry, we might say, “I’m going to separate the artist from the act.”

If the same artist were black, they would be socially permitted to use the “N-Word” because it’s acceptable in society to reappropriate a racial word and use it on your own race. We have some strange tolerances and rules as a society don’t, we? The same is true with friendships. How many people do we know say things like: “If you support Trump unfriend me now”, whereas if someone supported ‘Pro-Life’ even all their friends were ‘Pro-Choice’ they may not cut them off. Why do we have a notion of what is a breaking-point and what is not? Is it entirely our own breaking-point or deeply influenced by cultural perceptions of the moment?

Only fifteen years ago, people didn’t defend or talk of LGBTQX anywhere like they do now. Nobody thinks fifteen years is a long time. Social media makes ‘trends’ come and go; we change without realizing how much we are changing. What we applaud, stand for, condemn, all shift according to the whim of a mass which is greater than our singular sum. Fifteen years ago, when I told friends it ‘hurt’ me to see signs saying ‘marriage equals a man and a woman’ all over my town, they nodded and said nothing. Now it would be a march and a hash-tag. Then there’s the nuance behind the nuance, like ‘pretend acceptance’ but you’re still not invited over to their house, so it’s superficial at best. That’s rampant. Do we talk about that kind of pretense too?

Some of this is about what is perceived and what is the breaking point, or the socially perceived intolerance. Ask yourself, are you doing this because of inflamed momentum or are you being hypocritical? In theory, if you don’t have the same responses to all the things you believe are wrong, should you have any at all? Likewise, there are critical themes to most people’s personal sense of morality, that they rarely shift from. This explains why a Latino could vote for a politician who is blatantly being racist toward Latinos. They are not voting because of that; they are voting because that politician represents a party who is Pro-Life and Pro-guns and maybe that’s what their core values are.

It’s never as simple as we like to think it is. In an ideal world we’d all have a shared moral compass but we really don’t. For some, the freedom to bear arms far outweighs climate change, or women’s rights or immigrants’ rights, and we may condemn them for that, but we should consider for a moment if we are just as rigid. We may defend a Pro-Choice candidate who is against Israel even as we are Jewish. It’s never about one thing. It’s often not about what you think it is.

One might argue, this is black and white thinking and it is. But that’s where we get into trouble, by thinking dogmatically about complicated things. It’s simply not that simple and that’s part of Owens’ over-arching point in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation.

Some non-black people will be offended or angry that they are not being ‘included’ in the right to be outraged about racism. After all weren’t most of the protesters in Portland, Oregon white? And didn’t they protest for #BLM for weeks? Why doesn’t that count?

It does count. But every time a non-black person stands up for a black person, Owen says, it discounts the black person’s response by appropriation. And this well meaning ‘white guilt’ overlays the natural response of black people to oppression and prejudice and racism. It’s just another way of keeping (the black person) on the plantation, according to Owen.

Owen is brave to write this, because it’s poking the bear. Another example would be the women’s movement in the 60/70s and how ultimately the black women’s movement divorced from the white women’s movement for that exact reason. Appropriation. But is Owens’ right about all of it? Some cases are more easily dissected than others. Let’s look at her examples:

Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish. Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black. Those are accurate. Rachel Dolezal has gone on to ‘identify’ as Black, the argument being, whilst she knows she is not biologically black she identifies as black. Owen’s points out, whilst this may be the case, she cannot know what it is like to be prejudiced against for the color of her skin because she was born white and remains biologically white.

The argument is similarly applied to Baldwin. But there’s another side to this. Many of us know black people who don’t look black but are biologically black (take Wentworth Miller from Prison Break). We know people who look black but are not nearly as black as others who don’t, and we know people who are Spanish but don’t speak Spanish or relate to it. It’s simply not as easy as that … or is it?

Dolezal was born white, she inherited ‘white privilege’ and now identifies as black and has black biological kids. She may have had no more white privilege than some black women who do not look black and ‘pass’ as white just as she tried to ‘pass’ as black. The difference being, Dolezal was NOT black. Where do we draw the line? Are we angry at what she did more than the reality of her experience? Are we punishing her or really trying to define something that isn’t always as simple as it seems?

Just as much as there is a black and white set-in stone, there is not. Twins can be born one black and one white, does the white one says ‘I am white’ and the black one says ‘I am black’ and that’s all there is to it? They can say mixed-race but what do people see? Do we need disclaimers? Or are things based on snap-judgement of perception. I would say the later, and as such, we are all prejudiced because black people make snap judgements about black and white faces as much as white people do.

The difference here is the power in society and what you can do with it. Historically white oppression meant if a white person WAS prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour they would be racist; whereas if a black person was prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour, it would be seen as a response to the racism inherent in society.

But how do we know this?

Within all cultures there have been casteism and racism and prejudice among similar groups, based on skin colour and other aspects. If a black person says to a darker skinned black person, they are inferior, they are technically not being racist, they are thought to be appropriating racial bigotry. But isn’t that patronizing and assumptive?

In India because they were a colonial country, they inherited casteism that came with prizing fair skin over dark, and it is argued, the white man bequeathed this. But many Indians have since said, this predated the white man, just as slavery predated the white man in Africa. Whilst nobody is taking away the damage and harm done BY the white man, it’s never as cut and dry as it seems.

What we can use as an ultimate determinant is our biological status. I am biologically mixed-race; nobody can change that. But what of a biological gender?

Owen’s says; A biological man is NOT a woman. And a biological female will never be a man. So, all the arguments earlier, are moot. If your biology is NOT black you are not black. If your biology is not Spanish heritage you are NOT biologically Spanish, even if you identify as such, bad luck. How does this work when looking at transgender folk?

The very nature of being transgender is you are biologically born as one gender and you may wish to physically alter that gender, but you ‘identify’ as either no gender (androgynous) or another gender than your biological one. In recent years, identification has soared in terms of youth especially, identifying as non-binary or not wishing to label themselves with a gender. But ‘trans’ is different to someone who wishes not to identify as a gender, it also means they may wish to physically change their inherent biological gender.

If someone born female undergoes gender reassignment surgery, they are F2M. If they identify as male and do not undergo gender reassignment surgery, they will still call themselves male even if they continue to have the biology of a woman, because they ‘identify’ as male. Thus, it is ‘identity’ that is the key here, NOT the absolutism of biology which no matter what you do, you cannot completely alter.

Owens’ argues that using this logic, a woman who ‘identifies’ as black cannot be black because identity doesn’t trump biology. And therefore, transgenders are not what they ‘identify as,’ they continue to belong to the gender of their birth. She uses this as partial argument for why she does not believe transgender should be permitted into the military in the USA.

It’s quite a bold argument and she’s received a huge amount of backlash from it, although the LGBTQX community has been quieter than had Owens’ herself not been black because of course, if you are calling a black person out for calling you out, that’s another hornet’s nest. The cardinal rule book has been thrown out because it really depends whom you are accusing of what and when. One person will be forgiven if they apologise, because we like them, the next person will be vilified because we do not like them so much. Our double standards dictate our sense of truth as much as truth does.

Ultimately a liberal might say: Where is the HARM in identifying as anything as long as it doesn’t hurt someone? But Liberals were especially mortified at the two cases of women identifying as a different race/culture, because they thought it was offensive. Again, we have a group of people ‘defending’ another group by being offended on their behalf. Ironically most people of colour laughed it off and thought it was madness. Some pointed to the unfairness of Dolezal getting a job on the basis of being considered black as she was seen to benefit from a falsity. Some thought it smacked of white appropriation at its worst.

People who have an issue with trans, typically feel they are pretending to be another gender and they take issue with that because they don’t want them in the ‘wrong toilet’ or ‘peeing next to my son’ – the thought there being: there’s something dangerous or wrong or threatening.

Let’s look at that. Are trans more likely to commit a crime? No. Are they more likely to be paedophiles? No. So the ‘fear’ is more the fear of the unknown, something they do not understand. Can the same be said of white people appropriating the black culture, or a non-Spanish person pretending to be Spanish? Is it more a case of cultural/racial disrespect? In which case what is disrespectful about a man identifying as a woman or vice versa? Where is the harm?

It is about harm? A biological man can rape a biological woman. Harm and its myriad definitions, is as much about a deep-rooted sense of fear. What Roman Polanski did to kids was ‘harm’ but some say ‘let sleeping dogs lie, he’s paid for it.’ Does harm have an expiry date or a forgiveness quota? One thing I notice is, when it comes to women being sexually assaulted, it’s relatively diminished by society if you look at how many convictions occur. When it comes to famous people committing crimes, more people defend them. When it comes to talented people committing crimes, more people say, ‘separate the artist from the act’.

If brick layer Barry down the road, slept with a 12-year-old I’m not sure people would be saying ‘separate the art from the act’. So, are we giving talented people we admire, an out?

When we talk of harm, we can consider Economist Dierdre McClusky, who M2F claims she can understand the oppression of women now that she is one. Some Feminists argue a M2F is the ultimate appropriation of gender and men dictating the female. Just as it can be argued a man cannot truly understand a woman’s experience any more than a non-black can be black. Conversely, Theorist Kamla Bhasin believes: “Feminism is not biological. Feminism is an ideology.” Can being black be an ideology? No. So why can being female be an ideology?  Can you experience by proxy or is it the lack of ‘born into it’ experience that denies true understanding rather than chosen experience? What of those within a group who don’t understand their own racial or gendered experience?

Likewise, are we too quick to condemn say, someone we do not understand, just because it makes us feel uncomfortable? How much is influenced by those factors we don’t even consider, but colour our sense of how far we go on any given subject? How much is natural bias versus appropriated outrage, versus subject du jour? Owens’ points out that white protests were as much about whites as about blacks and as such, they defeated the purpose and were patronizing and insulting to blacks. She believes blacks need to do their own things, and not get re-appropriated by white groups seeking to ‘defend’ them. Is there any merit to that?

When I grew up it was de riguer to say things like: “Your mum’s a lezzie”. And no way was I going to come out during those days and admit to being queer. Nowadays we can come out to things far more easily, and some argue, it’s a slippery slope, what’s next? Where will it end?

As much as you want tolerance and acceptance and an end to prejudice, racism, bigotry, you are also opening a flood gate. Some think, next it will be polyamory, just as it went from marriage to divorce — living together unmarried — gays living together — gays marrying/adopting — more than two people living together in a sexual relationship. If we apply the ‘if it’s not hurting anyone’ rule, then so what? But what about possible next steps? Already organisations of paedophiles, including under-age children, have been lobbying for recognition.

Paedophiles believe, if it is consensual then there is no harm, and their kind of love should be accepted. BDSM groups are doing the same. Whilst in theory we should be able to deal with this by applying the ‘do no harm’ rule, it begins to get more cloudy, as more complicated elements are under consideration. After all, human beings are perverse folk at best.

One might argue, there is a black and white. A wrong and right. A good and bad. A woman and a man. And there is a comfort in reverting back to those old tropes because they’re immutable. Until they’re not. And what we say in polite company as we all know, is quite different to what we say behind closed doors. How often do my LGBTQX friendly neighbors call me ‘the next-door lezzie’ even now? What would they say if I had a non-binary child? How often do my friends roll their eyes at ‘another Jewish post’ and how many times do black people get sick of white people talking about black issues?

On the other hand, if we do nothing and are true armchair liberals/conservatives, then ‘nothing comes from nothing.’ How do we give people the respect they deserve in how they identify, as we continually evolve a sense of what is permanent, biological, social, emotional, psychological? Where does that end? When an eight-year-old decides they are trans and wants an operation at thirteen, do the parents respect their right? Or worry about if they’ll change their mind in adulthood? How can you accomplish both? None of these subjects are easy. Many believe they are overly pathologized, but there remains some value in seeking therapy if nothing else, to work through the myriad considerations of any life-altering change.

Questioning these things leaves most of us really perplexed and possibly frustrated. Not questioning them is worse. We should not condemn those who have the courage to question them, even if we disagree. We have often learnt more from contention than from agreement. Whilst I may not agree with Owens’ in many ways, I appreciate her willingness to engage.

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Essay

US Polls: What should We Celebrate?

By Candice Louisa Daquin, Senior Editor, Indie Blu(e) Publishing

Even the most stalwart historian among us, will attest, it takes living in a country, inhabiting its borders, to truly understand a country. It is no wonder we struggle to truly comprehend the lived experience of people in other countries. America must look very strange to the rest of the world, just as we who live in America may stereotype and miss the nuances of the political landscape of other countries.

But as strange as America may look, it is a strange country to live in too. As an immigrant to America, I have the advantage of knowing what it is like to have lived in three other countries and been resident or citizens of them. It helps in seeing why people hold the perspectives they do.

Obviously, it is a mine field if you say only one side is ‘right’ and everyone else is wrong. That is one of two main reasons Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, she called the other side stupid. Whether they are or not, is not the point. The point is nothing is won by calling names and condemning groups on either side. Those groups will rise and show their power. This happened when Donald Trump, against most predictions, won the US election in 2016.

Many were in disbelief that a man who was better known as a hotelier and reality TV show host, could be President. But interestingly it was less surprising for people outside of America, who remembered Reagan and were aware of similar casting among leaders, happening in other countries. Boris Johnson could be compared in many ways to Trump, and has been, and it is certainly not the first time, someone has won a large election, who was not the favorite.

I saw it as old-fashioned backlash. The party of the left wins, next time the party of the right fights to gain a foothold, it goes back and forth, and therefore so often, nothing is accomplished in politics. Many people believed the 2016 election was an extreme because America had just had its first President of colour, Barack Obama and this was a case of ‘white trumping black’. That is not how I saw it. Many of those who voted for Trump did not do so because of his skin colour or gender, they did so because they were Republican. They were responding to their fears of a socialist government under the Democrats and the rolling out of Obama Care.

What is often misunderstood, are the reasons behind why voters vote. They are not always voting based on racism, sexism, or what is in the news at the time. That explains why in 2020, a significant number of Hispanics and Black voters voted Republican. Had it been based upon the news, one would imagine with ‘Black Lives Matter’ dominating the headlines, that every person of colour would have voted Democrat. Neither can this be explained by people of colour NOT voting, aside when Barack Obama won, where more people of colour voted than ever before.

Ultimately then, there are many reasons why people vote what they vote, and to try to predict what those are, is not easy. It is my belief core values make up more of the reasons for votes than transient values. If a core value is ‘thou shalt not take a life’, chances are, you will vote Republican because you are Pro-Life, and this is a core value. Likewise, if your core value is the 2nd amendment, and you live on a farm and have guns, you may vote Republican even if you do not like Trump.

Of course, within that, there are independent voters and swing-voters who WILL be influenced by negative campaigning, smear-attack adverts, misleading accusations, or truisms. Those people will vote based on the emotion of the hour, and they are often the voters most targeted because of their susceptibility. Whether that justifies spending 11 billion dollars on any election is up for debate. My personal view is, it is shameful to spend the kind of money we do, when people need medical help and food. I would like to see this country take money out of politics as others have, but I find it unlikely this will ever happen.

Neither Biden nor Trump are utterly liked or respected by all members of their parties, but they win based on reaching those core values, and the corralling of as many voters as possible. When money and undue influence are powerful elements of any election, you will never know the full story, only the outcome. Whilst people may have been dismayed to have Trump as President, it galvanized many Democrats to come up with a strong viable counter-candidate who could get rid of him in 2020. Unfortunately, this was not proven to be as easy as it sounded. Too many candidates ran, and votes were siphoned off. Tokenism became more important than ever (to have a female President someday, and if not, to at least have a female Vice President, to have another person of colour as President, and if not, to at least have a person of colour Vice President).

It surprised few when Joe Biden, who had originally said he would not run for 2020 ended up doing so. This was borne from his parties’ fear Trump would sweep the election again without a proven Democratic contender to stand in his way. As Biden had been VP to Obama, he seemed the natural choice, albeit older than his years, and not entirely committed at first. Sadly, Kamala Harris and others, did not receive enough popular support to be considered able to beat Trump and maybe some of this was an assumption a woman could not beat a man at this juncture in American history.

Here is one difference between American politics thus far, and many other countries, where female leaders have had a tradition even in countries one might assume to be more sexist than American (India for example). Which begs the question, are our optics even accurate? I would say they could not be if India is able to elect Indira Gandhi as leader and America has yet to have a female President. Of course, there is far more to sexism than whether a female leads a country, but it is a good starting point.

Biden is not initially as popular as some of his precursors, one could even claim he is a candidate of compromise, meaning; Give me ‘anyone but Trump’ in the eyes of some voters. Whether popular or not, is irrelevant until he begins his term and inherits the troubled US economy, set to be the worst since the Great Depression (and statistically speaking, even worse, given our larger population) and the troubles of Covid-19. It is hard to envy him this inheritance because it will be an uphill battle with little reward.

We have a history here in America of blaming leaders for natural disasters, as if they wield the power to change them. Trump has been accused of causing America to have one of the consistently highest rates of transmission and deaths of Covid-19 since March 2020 and to some extent this is unfair, given that most other countries are not far behind and we are all on a steep learning curve. Not wearing a mask or asking others to, certainly could be called irresponsible by any leader, but it’s worthwhile considering that outright accusing a leader of a country of causing deaths, might be going too far, when we look at pre-existing health care infrastructures and how they have not withstood an illness of this magnitude.

One could argue it is the legacy of all Governments who are responsible, because they simply do not plan ahead, or put money into things that need financing, and instead they live for the moment, spending on the immediate. Maybe it is the very essence of politics that is corrupt and puts the immediate ‘reward’ ahead of long-term planning and infrastructure — this is the real issue here. In which case, I do not see things changing, because in a Capitalist country, economic reward tends to outweigh social support. That said, if you compare America’s healthcare system to others, whilst it isn’t socialised and does leave many poor without resources, it also has a lot of money pouring into it, whilst socialised healthcare systems in Europe are floundering. Begging the question, if both do not really work, what is the alternative?

Whatever your political view, if you are in India right now or of Indian heritage, you must be excited to see an Indian woman as Vice President of the US, even if she doesn’t represent your political views. Not only is Kamala Harris half Indian but she is a formidable woman of great accomplishment. Whether you voted for her or not, you may find the appointment of a brown skinned woman as Vice President, a very exciting first, given the history of American white men being Vice President up until now.

But perhaps it is not sufficient to be glad a woman is in this position simply because she is a woman, or that a person of colour is voted to power simply because they are a person of colour. More is surely required. That person must have earned their stripes and be capable of the job. I think few doubt Kamala Harris’s credentials and experience thus far, make her an outstanding mentor for any woman or person of colour wishing to go into politics, which in America at least, is still a very male and white arena. Only time will tell if she can prove herself. I suspect she will.

In some ways this has made me realise that tokenism is not always a negative. Of course I would rather a time where it did not exist, but if you earned the right to equality and the only way you get it is through tokenism then it’s preferable to having no way of getting it. Kamala Harris was given the Vice President’s job because the Democrats wanted a woman and wanted a person of colour, that part is undeniably tokenism, but she earned the role, and she deserves the role and nothing can mitigate that.

So how is America responding to the election results? Well of course, as predicted, it was messy. First it looked like Trump was going to win, then abruptly he lagged because of write-in-votes (by mail) and Biden surged. Understandably, many Republicans wondered how their candidate who was ahead in some states, could suddenly fall behind based on mail-in-ballots alone? The fear that those ballots were tampered with, was discussed at length and many still believe some dirty dealing was done to stuff ballots in favor of Biden.

Whilst this was done routinely in the past, and this is documented, without proof, there is no reason to believe cheating occurred and unless a witness comes forward or ballot boxes are proven to be stuffed. It is reasonable to assume, Biden surged ahead because yes, the majority of write-in ballots by mail were for him. This is not implausible, but it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because it was not a ‘clean win’ the way both sides had hoped for. On the one hand, Democrats believed they would win by a higher percentage, and on the other, Republicans had their hopes raised and then they fell.

As for the Trump campaign and Trump himself, we are still waiting on his perspectives, but unsurprisingly, he is seeking legal redress in the hope a recount will secure him another term as President. It was said that there would be riots throughout the US if Trump won again, and this may have happened, given recent tensions, but with Biden all but heir apparent, there have been few protests coming from the Republicans. I am personally glad for this period of calm, having had many months of riots throughout this country (often with good reason). Now, seems like it should be a time of reflection and planning for 2021.

Namely, how to rid America (and the rest of the world) of Covid-19 and its hold over us, economically and socially. People have reacted differently than ever before, due to the stressors of this unprecedented time. That said, it is not unprecedented, it has just not happened for a long time, and people forget their history. One thing we can say, is if we all knew our histories better (both politically and socially) we might be in better shape to handle what is coming.

Back to Kamala Harris. What can the first female Vice President do for women throughout America and the world? What can she represent, engender, inspire? And what will having the second person of colour in the second highest position of the land do to helping eliminate racism and racial tensions? In some ways I believe it will be like neighbourhoods. History shows us, when white neighborhoods had people of colour move in, their first response was racism and over time, the racism reduced. It is my hope by having people of colour (and women) in positions of political power in America, it will reduce racism and sexism. And implement more equality. Whether that happens or not, time will tell.

For all the faults his detractors will list, Trump is still a deeply popular man among his core bases. No he is not very well liked by Fox News, the only Republican run media channel in America, nor do some of his fellow Republicans respect or like him, but among the ‘regular Joe’ throughout America, you could see a vast number of people still rooting for him. Democrats would have us believe this is as simple as the divide between those who are racist and those who are not. Respectfully I disagree. I think that is too simplistic an analysis. People who vote for Trump are not always voting for the negative aspects, others may equate with Trump, such as racism, sexism, elitism. They may in fact be voting for Trump because they are afraid of change, they may be voting for Trump because he’s the Republican candidate and they have always voted Republican or they may be voting because they don’t feel they are represented by the other party.

If this is the reason, then it would not be fair to say those people were just ignorant racists. And this is what divides America. The beliefs we hold about each other. As a lesbian woman, as an immigrant, as a Jewish woman, as a mixed-heritage woman, as a female, I check a lot of minority boxes. But I know within those boxes there is are multiple considerations. Consider the situation of a Jew. Jews are dying out (literally) they are the most targeted minority in the US today, Muslim immigration increases throughout the world, it is possible a Jew will vote Republican because they perceive Republicans to be pro-Israel and thus pro-Jew, whilst it is possible they perceive Democrats to be anti-Jewish because of certain Democrats who are Muslim and have spoken strongly against Israel. If this one example can be expanded to fit all possible examples, we can see why it is not as simple as RACIST = VOTING FOR TRUMP.

I neither defend, justify, or condemn either side for mistakes made, because it only inflames people to read condemnation. Rather than criticise, let us look at what does work, and do more of that. It works to consider how to help people, it works to care about people. It works to value diversity because in diversity, we get variety, and that is a good thing. Despite the fact that America is a country built on immigrants, we seem to, once we reach the melting-pot, have forgotten our origins, and gone our own ways. Many immigrants do not ‘become’ conservative, they already hold traditional, conservative views that they continue to hold once they have immigrated. To expect them not to, is to disrespect their culture as much as telling them to change to fit ours. Equally, any immigrant, and I speak as one, should respect the basic tenets of a country they immigrate to. If you hate women and gays, do not live in a country that asks you to respect them. Simple things like that.

We need to learn this and not rely as heavily on obvious tokenism and short-term tactics to gain voters. By doing this, we learn more about what voters really want, what matters most to them and why. We can then have conversations about how to achieve this on both sides, and the polarity in both parties can begin to be reduced, which is a good thing for everyone. As the Republicans still hold the Senate, Biden’s hands will be somewhat tied, and this divide only exacerbates the going back and forth in politics that causes less to happen on both sides. Isn’t the ideal to do more? No matter what party is in office? We should never celebrate that we are so divided, we should seek ways to come closer together.

Nonetheless it is a cause of celebration for Kamala Harris to be Vice President of America and I hope this heralds a time of less friction. It is good to disagree and debate. It is not so good to have hate and erosion. It may seem clear cut. But think of it like this; both sides feel it is clear cut. Not just one. And with such diametric differences, we must find what we have in common again. I do not believe this is impossible. Discounting the true haters, most of us are not bad people, we are just varied, our beliefs, what motivates us, what we fear. A good leader will try to unify. In this Pandemic we have seen we are far from unified, with people refusing to wear masks, whilst others say; ‘let those who are going to die, die, so we don’t ruin our economy’ and this has really brought us to our knees. What better time to rebuild, and find what we can agree upon? I hope we never forget to value human life and each other, irrespective of our differences. Ultimately, we are far more alike than different.

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Review

Fighting Fascism with Poetry

Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

Title: Lastbench, North American protest edition,

Editor: Tanvir Ratul

Publisher: AntiVirus Publication www.lastbench.org, November 2020

Lastbench is an anthology written in the time of Trump and Covid-19, acting as a voice for those who are frustrated with the news cycle, wishing for something more visceral. It is unapologetically against Trump and considers his Presidency to be the terror that began the downfall. Whether true or not, this is the slant of this publication and it will appeal to those who feel similarly and are frustrated by the current office. That said, it’s aware things will not change simply because a President changes. Many of the issues brought up, are systemic.

If you are looking to read a collection of poets who explore the myriad ways of frustration against the current administration and the over-all ineffectiveness of politics en mass, you may find a lot here to sink your teeth into. Irrespective of which political hat you wear, you cannot fail to appreciate the solid authorship of the writers involved in this inaugural issue. Clearly the editor has gone out of his way to ensure those who were featured were the very best writers he had, and the writing is impressive.

I particularly appreciated the IMMEDIACY of this publication, you feel as if you are reading in ‘real time’ – this highlighted in Jennifer Lagier’s piece, ‘A New War’, that begins with a quote from Michael Cohen, “I fear if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” Let’s hope the prophecy isn’t true, but either way, we’re in the moment, the writing is now, the authors are current, this is why we have technology, and this is how Lastbench is relevant and interesting.

With such publications, poetry needs to have that edited, clear, precision that speaks to the point immediately and cuts to the chase. If it goes on too much, we lose focus, because this is all about the punchline, the bottom line, the key points, the overview of what is occurring. We don’t want massive detail; we want provocative thoughts, and this is how this publication reads.

Personally, it doesn’t matter whether I agree with the politics or not, I can appreciate the voice and what is being described through poetry, as well as the humor and horror behind it. This is a writ of 2020 and it’s deeply relevant because of its collective moment.

On a purely poetic appreciation level, I really liked Mary Ellen Talley’s piece, ‘Fools Like Me’ for its simplicity, and jarring vernacular, it’s a classic resistance poem that could have been written in WW2 as easily as now, but has the edge of today, and the sorrow of loss etched all over it. I must really like Talley’s work because her second piece, ‘Veering from a Villanelle’ was equally haunting to me. The line: “Come again, USA, nation of truce, nation of trust” was chilling.

‘Love Letter to the President’, by John Milkereit, was another modern horror/humor mixture that I appreciated for its sardonic wit and deft amusement with reality. So many memorable lines like: “I can’t love you as much as I love a stranger, / or Joseph Stalin’s ghost might be watching.” It’s hard to go wrong with writing like that, veering on the classic.

Some pieces didn’t do anything for me, but I’m sure others could find a lot in them, it’s all about what you’re feeling as you read them and how they relate to your own ideas at the time, as much as how stellar they are literally. For example, I could see what Tom Montgomery was trying to do with ‘untitled’, but I felt ultimately it just read like a dull version of a children’s rhyme and it didn’t catch me beyond that. Compared to this, Marianne Weltman’s ‘Make America Great Again Songbook’ was incredibly clever and very funny, she really took the genre of a children’s rhyme and made it work with the idea of Trump’s campaign slogan as key theme. The lines I found most compelling; “This Land is Your land, This Land is My land / In a prison van to Riker’s Island / Ave Maria, Holy Mother take pity / On asylum seekers lost in this city.” A very, very smart blend of reality and children’s song, leaving you wondering and slightly horrified by the depiction. The core question Dustin Pickering begs in Snake/Shutdown “why did we nourish him? / why did our nation bend?” Lines like these will resonate with those seeking comrades in arms, or just an alternative voice to the mainstream narrative.

‘Summer in Trump’s America’ by Marianne Szlyk, is a haunting version of today’s emptied streets and whether you argue in favor of Trump being culpable in some way for Covid-19 or not, you can appreciate Szlyk’s portrayal of those abandoned streets – as we have all seen them. In Jim Cox’s poem, ‘Earth Day’, we see the other ways writers blame Trump for global-warming and his responses thus, and whilst I am not a huge fan of rhyming, Cox does a terrific job, making something awful, humorous and then reframing it and begging the question, when will it end? Leszek Chudziński’s beautiful poem, ‘Refills Are Free’, really struck a deep chord, it’s a classic poem you’ll think of long after you’ve finished reading with lines like: “Where food is good / And suffering discernible.”

Equally, any survivor will find much in Kelli Russell Agodon’s brave piece, ‘When I Look Into The Face Of The President Of The United States, What I See Is My Trauma Walking Around’. I won’t spoil everything by detailing what I appreciated in each, but there is a little bit for everyone and some enormously talented writers therein. Often when you read a collection of poetry by different poets, you wonder why half of them were included, not so here. The editor(s) have done a superb job of collating the very best, the very now of writing and if poems like Thomas Brush’s “Legacy, don’t stay in your head for hours afterward, percolating and querying at the deepest levels, I don’t know what would.”

I won’t go through all the poems, although I could, and I’d enjoy doing so, which in of itself proves the readability and relevance of this publication. Suffice to say, there are gems here that any vantage point will get something from, and stellar writers with sound awareness of what it takes to write a good poem, irrespective almost, of what you are writing about. Margaret Shafer Paul Shafer, in ‘January 1st’, give a voice to those who do not fit the label of ‘minority’ but feel as disenfranchised by recent events, Cheryl Latif in her blazing poem, ‘Searching for America’, really stunned me with an anthem of these times, so many Americans will relate to, I don’t want to say more, just read and you’ll see. If nothing else, this is half or more of America and what they are thinking, feeling, saying and it’s wise for everyone to listen, because to do less is to miss half of this country’s voices.

There’s even a manifesto at the end, I’ll leave that for you to find. I stand with Rose Drew on this salient last word; “Can’t watch the news but I’m not defeated.”

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Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Review

The Forever Abode

Book Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

Title: The Forever Abode
Author: Dustin Pickering
Publisher: Transcendent Zero Press

I’d not read a lot of Dustin Pickering before reading a draft copy of The Forever Abode. Pickering had mentioned this was a collection of poetry about a long-term relationship and thus, I found the idea intriguing. Poetry and love going so well together.

The first thing you notice reading Pickering is, he’s not a modern poet. His writing style and the emotional emphasis behind it, is very much inspired by, and in the genre of poetry from the 17th and 18th century poets.

For many this may be a little too classical, but I found it refreshing and ironically, original, because of its homage to the poetic form of old. What better genre in which to accomplish this than poetry about love or love in poetry?

Pickering is a huge romantic, that’s clear from the first few lines. Another thing in his favour. When men are romantic, I think they excel at it. It becomes their life blood and bleeds into their words effortlessly. Who better to be romantic about than a woman? She is the object of desire, whether we with our modern principles accept this or not.

The style is distinct. Pickering doesn’t title all his poetry. He has three sections. In 1. Baby, the first poem speaks of:

“because I honor you because love isn’t cheap— / my heart sequestered by phantom desires / and touch what soul?”

I love the use of his question(ing) in the lines, this reminds me of William Blake so much and is very poignant, working so well with the idea of asking (the desired one) whilst at the same time beseeching them.

“when darkness preens our bodies / flight like a whistle birds of stone we cannot eat / I lay quietly in your light.”

If you say this poem out loud, you can hear the skill with which it was wrought. There is a baseline melody and then an upper cadence, rhythmic throughout and the ‘voice’ is extremely predominant, almost begging you to usher it into existence. This accomplishes a sense of: the poet himself, the object of his desire, his emotions. In many ways this is a classical recipe when writing love poems and you either love them or hate them. I fall into the former category.

Beautiful wordplay also dominates almost effortlessly. One such example: the use of “phantom desires” saying so much in two words. And the ending – “I lay quietly in your light” such a brief ending, so perfectly crafted with the flow of words, and overall feeling of gentle love and adoration. The tenderness he is able to evoke using his mastery of language is evident from the first line.

Although it’s harder to navigate the book due to not having titles, I quite like the idea of titleless poems and a reliance instead on the meaning, the emotion, the swell so to speak. In the second poem of 1. Baby, the lines: “by design I am fatal/ horse of sleep / carrying you toward me / where dreams eviscerate the mind” stood out as being stocked with metaphor and glorious imagery. Sometimes when you write obliquely in some ways and at the same time, say so much through your use of image, you set a stage far more vividly than by deliberate illustration. Suffice to say, such lines appear classic in their magnificent deliberation, how Pickering is able to shift our reading by the choice of which line they appear on, is surely the poet at his finest.

Poem 3 in the same series states: “you inhabit this tender world/ with a majesty no one recognizes/ but me.” By using “tender” before world Pickering deliberately and artfully softens the tone. Again using “majesty” he reveres his subject without needing to say more, and so, in three lines, so much is given, and little is lost. Another poetic device few possess, for we are often tempted to spell out what can be self-evident if we know our craft well enough.

As I read on, I find lines like: “the efficacy of dawn / like hammers clutched to the skin—” . These are equal to lines you would recall from taking a poetry course, that’s how tight and well-woven they are, and remain long after reading. Few authors have the ability to bring two lines alive with such dexterity and it is to Pickering’s credit that he is able to do this throughout this collection again and again.

Then suddenly there is a titled poem – “We Are Descending Together (After Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2)” and from this, I learn, how Pickering is able to be the poet I find. He takes a snapshot of something beautiful and speaks on it. As he does here, as he does throughout, and it works with such a crescendo of evocative naturalness, you feel he’s the creator and the subject:

“I admit to my failure at lovemaking. / I don’t make love; I destroy it.”

These lines are shattering. Their purity is staggering and I am reverent in my appreciation of Pickering’s high feeling like I have never been before.
I become aware that maybe I have mis-stepped, that this format is actually more deliberate than I even realised. I think of Duchamp’s staircase and then see the way these poems are arranged, with title or section title it matters not, these are meant to be read as one would fall down or climb up a staircase. You can hear it in the arrangement, as if Pickering were a composer writing music. That is exactly how this collection reads and I have never read a book of poetry that did this, not even Rossetti’s Goblin Market.
Within this, lines stand out like stars: “in empty fear there is an impulse to love—”. A mature and eerie understanding of human beings, emotions, desire, compulsion: “bolt the doors, rinse your wings: / every fear is justified. / nightingale slit throat, stolen honey.” It is a veritable glut of homage to every poet from Keats, the Brontë’s, through to Sappho, but done so naturally that it is in no way pretentious or seeking acclaim on the back of another. No, this is informed writing at its best.

Whether you are fan of poetry en masse or classical poetry, you will sink into lines like: “how do worms canker the flower? / envy’s sweet bud purses its lips in song.” I expect at times you may find this removed from the modern world and that will be a delight, because poetry isn’t of this world and a real poet will not conjure our world but a mirror of it, and reflect it back. Pickering has accomplished this through his breadth of knowledge about the world of literature and his own heart, that lives among those airy lines.

In the second section, ‘II Adult.’, Pickering shows his virtuoso as a philosopher of poetry with lines like; “What is known is not what we are certain of” and “heaven is anonymous and there are raging flags / above us”. And “nothing is senseless. Only the lack of sense.” (‘Intuition and Destiny’). Lines like those make me envy the quiet mind Pickering possesses, how he intuitively gleans beneath surfaces and remains in his imagination in ways that bring redolent colour and depth to his language.

The irony of when Pickering states: “you will be born forever into my tired stanzas.” Is that nothing could be further from the truth. These stanzas are anything but tired, they are fresh with intensity and passion and for those who love poetry, they are a welcome boon from the lackluster world beyond. If you find yourself envying his muse, then you know his work as a true romantic poet is accomplished.

Section Three is called ‘Walking Stick’ and symbolically I felt this line spoke of its meaning: “if I was perfect your stars would engage me.” This is the last part of the journey, where love slips through his hands, as beautifully as tragedy can be:

“if a monster I am, let me galvanize the pretty flux of death. / rapid sleep, dream in agency, I will not forgive.”

As an ardent fan of tragic love as well, I found Pickering’s handling of this delicate grief remarkable. It is far, far too easy as a writer to slip into maudlin self-pity and to retain that flourish of poetry whilst writing such despair is extremely challenging. Pickering succeeds in making tragedy beautiful and this is when you know, yes, he’s got that bittersweet magic in his soul:

“if prayer and fortune are no better than chance, / sublime randomness rules the punch— / we dig in, we live, the banquet of folly.”

It sounds pretentious of me to say this, but I have to because it’s what I thought reading The Forever Abode. Dustin Pickering’s writing reminds me of Shakespeare in his dexterous handling of tragedy especially and John Keats or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his wild submergence into love. With lines like:

“I will not forget my love, for she is silver / to gestalt eyes.”

What else can come to mind but those greats, who know how to pick silver from the darkness and make it see? Equally, as a writer of poetry I have learned so much about the importance of line breaks, something so seemingly obvious and yet, Pickering could give seminars on it in his sleep.

Two final points necessary to make mention of. Firstly, that Pickering may use old-world language in such a way we have seen and grown bored of before, but he does it with intelligence. He doesn’t just borrow the words; he inhabits and understands them. Many times, I read words like ‘o-er’ and know the author doesn’t really understand more than the obvious meaning behind them, and not how to employ the rhythm and romance of those old words into song. Pickering is dexterous in his awareness of these words, both then and now, and as such they are not just symbols, he is bringing the past into the future.

Lastly, Pickering has wrought a beautiful creation with The Forever Abode. He has reminded me why I was drawn to poetry way back when I first read it. He has tapped me on the shoulder and let me know it’s okay to be a hopeless romantic. He has let it be okay to love language and wordplay without needing a modern twist. For this I owe him a debt of gratitude. Reading The Forever Abode has been an awakening into my own love affair with poetry and how no matter what, it endures within us, without us and throughout us, in its ability to make us feel … everything.

“Gold chalices are floating in an array of fleecy torpor: / wind puts the candle to its test. Failure is only a game./ It doesn’t matter how or when— / love will sink into you like a raw fruit / seeded by memory. / The thought of you reconciles me to death.”

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com