Categories
Essay

Chipping Away At Time’s Edifice

By Dustin Pickering

#Minnesota, Sketch by Dustin Pickering

“…history is potent enough to deliver, on time, in the medium to long run, most of the possible scenarios, and to eventually bury the bad guy.”

Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

This essay assumes a personal and historical tone during time of global unrest. It is my response to the murder of George Floyd and seeks to re-imagine what could be from what is.

My great grandfather on my dad’s side loved Black people. He was respected in the small Mississippi town of Monticello where he frequented Black churches at night. As a Southern Baptist, it was an odd thing for him during that period to appreciate the Black community. This was during a time prior to the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s.

My grandmother grew up in that era and married at age 13. Her husband was involved with Klansmen. She told me stories about violence against Blacks including an incident where she saw a Black man run into a field followed by an angry mob of white men that included the town sheriff. The sheriff told her not to worry about what was going on. She told me in confidence that when the Civil Rights Act made it possible for Blacks to run for office, she voted for a Black woman running in a local election. She told me stories of Blacks being chased from sidewalks and vapidly discouraged from smiling casually at white women, treated as second-class citizens, jazz clubs being raided, Black musicians portrayed as negative influences on youth and women for smoking marijuana, and newspapers with severely racist headlines. The picture was distant to me other than history books. She told me about the first time she witnessed a sit-in. Her shock was outrun by her admiration. She owned the Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.

These stories will come as no surprise to Blacks, I’m sure. The Black community has suffered repression by white supremacists and societal conditions imposed on them for hundreds of years in the United States. It seems unjust that even Nature is not even-handed. For instance, the COVID-19 virus and AIDS disproportionately affected Black communities. I attended a short discussion with Tantra Zawadi, an activist and poet, several years ago during which she showed a documentary film about the suffering of Black people due to the AIDS virus. I asked her why she thought it hurt her community particularly. She responded that the Black community has learned to not care for itself. That is a long and frightening discussion.

***

It is often assumed that the American Civil War resolved the problems created by slavery. President Lincoln is reported as stating, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” This was quoted from his debates with Sen. Stephen Douglas on September 18, 1858. This statement was made in defense against the Democrats who believed Lincoln would abolish slavery, what was then a radical suggestion.

Frederick Douglass said of class struggle, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

The Black Codes of the Reconstruction era did just this. Even before the Civil War, such codes were designed to protect the institution of slavery. Blacks were expected to turn their guns over to white men upon the white man’s request. Through convict leasing, private parties could employ the free labor of convicts. This practice provided immense revenue to southern states. Time Magazine writes, “Prison privatization accelerated after the Civil War. The reason for turning penitentiaries over to companies was similar to states’ justifications for using private prisons today: prison populations were soaring, and they couldn’t afford to run their penitentiaries themselves.” In fact, the Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery except as punishment for a crime. Privatized prisons historically targeted Black males. African American families still suffer from policies such as the Drug War. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act created tougher mandatory sentences for possession of crack, a drug that was cheaper and easy to transport than powdered cocaine, though not much different in substance. Media hype of the 1980’s created the illusion of a “crack epidemic”, thus leading to the tougher sentencing law. This law was amended by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. The Sentencing Project Records the racial disparities of incarceration.

Some statements from The Sentencing Project:

“One contributing factor to the disparity in arrest rates is that racial minorities commit certain crimes at higher rates. Specifically, data suggests that black Americans—particularly males—tend to commit violent and property crimes at higher rates than other racial groups. Other studies, however, demonstrate that higher crime rates are better explained by socioeconomic factors than race: extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods experience higher rates of crime regardless of racial composition. Because African Americans constitute a disproportionate share of those living in poverty in the United States, they are more likely to reside in low-income communities in which socioeconomic factors contribute to higher crime rates.”

“The United States government’s War on Drugs has perhaps contributed more than any other single factor to the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

***

We continue to remind one another to “beat our swords into ploughshares.” We must be hungry.

***

In the 19th century prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, factions of anti-immigrant sentiment developed and coalesced into the Know Nothing Party. They were generally working-class nativists who resented Irish and German Catholics for economic reasons. They came from industrialized cities in the North and spread into the South. The Party was founded in 1844 and rose to prominence in 1853 until the Dred Scott decision and John Brown’s raid proved slavery was a central issue to the nation rather than immigration. John Wilkes Booth was a member.

Once the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) replaced congressional edict with popular sovereignty regarding slavery in territories included in the Louisiana Purchase, what is now known as the Republican Party emerged in the North among anti-slavery advocates and Freesoil debaters. Nativists in the South became entrenched in the Know Nothing cause. Such nativist sentiment evolved into the strict anti-immigration policy in the 1920’s that was oddly lax on northwestern European flow into the United States.

It is a commonly understood fact of history that the northern economy was less dependent on slave labor, and more on the surplus capital provided by taxing the products of slave labor. In Hylton v. US (1796), Justice Patterson wrote, “The constitution declares, that a capitation tax is a direct tax; and both in theory and practice, a tax on land is deemed to be a direct tax… The provision was made in favor of the southern states; they possessed a large number of slaves; they had extensive tracts of territory, thinly settled, and not very productive. A majority of the states had but few slaves, and several of them a limited territory, well settled, and in a high state of cultivation. The southern states, if no provision had been introduced in the constitution, would have been wholly at the mercy of the other states. Congress in such case, might tax slaves, at discretion or arbitrarily, and land in every part of the Union, after the same rate or measure: so much a head, in the first instance, and so much an acre, in the second. To guard them against imposition, in these particulars, was the reason of introducing the clause in the constitution.” (bold emphasis is the essayists)  

In 1895, the Pollack case redefined direct taxation to include taxes on property and income, and the 16th Amendment restored the original definition of taxation whereby to allow the progressive income tax and other measures.

The northern industrialized economy continued to exploit Black labor. According to thehenryford.org, “No single reason can sufficiently explain why in a brief period between 1910 and 1920, nearly half a million Southern blacks moved from farms, villages, towns and cities to the North, starting what would ultimately be a 50-year migration of millions. What would be known as the Great Migration was the result of a combination of fundamental social, political and economic structural problems in the South and an exploding Northern economy. Southern blacks streamed in the thousands and hundreds of thousands throughout the industrial cities of the north to fill the work rolls of factories desperate for cheap labor.” The population of Detroit nearly doubled between the years 1910-20 with a significant increase in the Black population. The Great Migration provided companies like Ford Motors with cheap labor from African Americans.

Clearly slavery shaped the United States economy and was a major catalyst of dispute as well as change. Some may argue it was necessary for the New World; however, religious groups such as the Mennonites were abolitionists as far back as 1688. Along with immigration and taxation, today’s Republican Party has utilized these antiquated hostilities; yet, the Democrats have convinced a segment of voters with other reasons. They became the party of ‘civil rights.’ Encyclopedia Britannica defines civil rights asguarantees of equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law, regardless of race, religion, or other personal characteristics.” A July 12, 1964 article in the New York Times states, “…the pressure exerted by militant Negroes had become so great that many businessmen had dropped racial barriers in their establishments. Many others were waiting only for the excuse provided by the new law.” The spirit of the times was changing to oblige equal rights. Some may argue that law does not guarantee equality or fair treatment. However, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated in a rebuttal to Goldwater’s “change of heart, not legislation” approach that he agreed with Goldwater, and although legislation cannot make a man love him it can in fact prevent him from lynching him.

We should not define bigotry, xenophobia, and racial injustice along party or regional lines as the usual contemporary narratives have it. My grandmother and I used to argue about the Old South in contrast to the “New South.” A few years ago, Newsweek ran a cover article along those lines. The changing attitudes of young people and the decline of traditional narratives favoring “states’ rights” were the article’s focus. After reading, I called my grandmother to discuss it with her.

She didn’t seem to agree that the South was changing significantly. She often spoke against the Democrats and their effect on the South historically. Democrats caused enormous civil unrest during the Reconstruction Era, including at the Battle of Liberty Place where white supremacists defeated US troops in an attempted coup against elected governor William Pitt Kellogg. Kellogg was considered a “carpetbagger” by white southern Democrats because of his years collecting customs at the Port of New Orleans. The White League, as the paramilitary white supremacist force was known, intimidated Blacks to prevent them from voting—no poll tax or literacy tests! Reconstruction era Democrats used violence and intimidation to oppose Black emancipation! The grandson of a Confederate soldier, President Lyndon Baines Johnson who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, supposedly remarked, “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.” It is sometimes said President Johnson was simply navigating the political realm wisely, much like President Lincoln.

This began the era of “Southern Strategy”. The term “dog whistle” was used to indicate the new rhetoric of “state’s rights” employed by the GOP. “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’. By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busingstates’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites,” Lee Atwater stated to explain states’ rights. Atwater further states, “But Reagan did not have to do a southern strategy for two reasons. Number one, race was not a dominant issue. And number two, the mainstream issues in this campaign had been, quote, southern issues since way back in the sixties. So Reagan goes out and campaigns on the issues of economics and of national defense. The whole campaign was devoid of any kind of racism, any kind of reference.” Does making race a central issue hurt or help the cause of equal justice? Have we forgotten the importance of racial dynamics in shaping this country?

I remember as a child in the Reagan 80’s I was tutored to read and write by a Black woman who came to love me as her own. This was in Mississippi, the heart of the Dixiecrat struggle only decades before.

***

In 2013, a high school in Jacksonville, FLA initiated a name change. It was originally named after Confederate general Nathan B. Forrest who was known to have cut off the arms of surrendered black soldiers. My father was at the forefront of keeping the name. I reluctantly signed a petition he created to keep the school’s name even though I strongly disagreed with it. The school’s African-American student population grew to over half the student body. The school used a Confederate flag in its pep rallies. I can see why the name, which was suggested by the Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1950’s, would upset Black students. Nathan Bedford Forrest was also the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I signed the petition in a lukewarm decision to support my family, believing it was a lost cause. I was later told that the petition would not be used because only current students and their families’ voices mattered in the decision process. My father was irate.

I agree with the decision to change the school’s name. Who wants to be subjected to seeing the symbols of racism—watch videos from the Civil Rights era—symbols used to oppress and intimidate Blacks, or have a school honored after the KKK’s first Grand Wizard who was not even from Florida? I learned of my own temerity and indecision during this dispute. While the petition had few signatories generally, I was one of them. My decision to sign went against my conscience.

The high school is now known as Westside High School.

***

As a matter of general observation, it seems that political grievances are not resolved only politically. 

Continuous police brutality against Blacks throughout history from Emmitt Till to Amadou Diallo, from Rep. John Lewis to George Floyd, is a serious concern. Blacks are 2.5 times as likely to face police violence than other racial groups. In 2019, 1,098 incidents of police homicide were recorded. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, Black people were 24 percent of those homicides while only being 13 percent of the population. In 2017, 1,117 police homicides occurred with 27 percent of them being Blacks. According to a National Institute of Justice study, 50.6 percent of police surveyed believed that it is not unusual for police to turn a blind eye to police misconduct and disagreed that police report abuses of authority at 58.5 percent of those surveyed (Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority, 2000). This study notes that 65.6 percent of those surveyed do not believe the “code of silence” is necessary to good policing. This suggests that in spite of the numbers, our police forces have integrity.

The Black community even retaliates against other Blacks, but Black violent crime is more likely to be interracial. Some solutions to these problems have been suggested. A February 4, 2017 NPR article reports that “as the ration of black officers in police departments rose – up to a certain threshold – so did the number of fatal encounters between officers and black residents… The tipping point appears to be 25 percent. When black officers reach that ratio in the force, the rate of fatal police-involved incidents levels off. The study also found that once a police department became about 40 percent black, the trendline flipped – the more black officers a department has after that point, the less likely the incidence of fatal encounters with black people.” Varieties of strain theory suggest that criminal activity could be due to strain on families, institutional and societal demands on the individual, the Ferguson effect (increased distrust of police due to police violence), and other factors. The National Review reports, “In reality, a randomly selected black man is overwhelmingly unlikely to be victim of police violence — and though white men experience such violence even less often, the disparity is consistent with the racial gap in violent crime, suggesting that the role of racial bias is small. The media’s acceptance of the false narrative poisons the relations between law enforcement and black communities throughout the country and results in violent protests that destroy property and sometimes even claim lives.” The data at mappingpoliceviolence.org notes that Black Americans killed by police are more likely to be unarmed. The broken windows approach encouraged in the 1994 Crime Bill puts undue pressures on poorer communities through increased policing of them. Some suggest juvenile delinquency is caused by the readiness of illegitimate opportunities compared to honest work.

Bloomberg reports a novel addition in this national conversation. Sarah Holder writes in “The City that Remade Its Police Force” that community policing has enabled peaceful protest. Holder writes, “Homicides in Camden [New Jersey] reached 67 in 2012; the figure for 2019 was 25.” With the assistance of New York University’s Policing Department, the police in Camden developed a new manual for use-of-force. (The manual can be read here.) Camden is hoping the rest of the country’s forces follow suit.

***

It seems in recent years there has been some improvement for the Black community.  Graduation levels improved under the Obama administration and Black unemployment is at historical lows under the Trump administration (prior to COVID-19). Economist Walter Williams in The State Against Blacks notes how government policies such as minimum wage and affirmative action have worsened conditions and discrimination. Since the book was written in 1982, unemployment among Black youth is still about 50 percent. Redlining began under FDR by housing authorities has also contributed to impoverishment of Black families. The Community Reinvestment Act, passed in the 1970’s to combat redlining, is even said to have played a role in the Great Recession of 2008 by encouraging subprime leasing.

The riots and demonstrations going on in the United States today as a reaction against the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was not resisting arrest and cried for his life while an individual officer’s knee clamped on his neck, are not historical anomalies. The problems faced by the African American community are rooted in a history that affects us all as Americans. The cheapening of Black lives, the destruction of their communities, and the ignorance prevailing concerning these matters and their causes should be openly discussed.

***

Aside from institutional violence, other policies have impacted the Black community disproportionately.

Conservatives believe abortion is rooted in the eugenics cause. As evidence they mention Margaret Sanger, a eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood. According to a 2017 study by American Journal of Public Health, black women had the highest rates of abortion even though white women had more of them.

The study, which also notes a decline in the number of abortions in the USA between 2008-14 says, White women accounted for the largest share of abortions among the 4 racial and ethnic groups examined (38.7%), although they had the lowest abortion rate: 10.0 per 1000. Black women were overrepresented among abortion patients and had the highest abortion rate: 27.1 per 1000.” It has been noted that clinics tend to be in poorer communities, granting easier access to minorities who tend to be economically disadvantaged.  Sanger herself notes the reason for her activism: “If THE WOMAN REBEL were allowed to publish with impunity elementary and fundamental truths concerning personal liberty and how to obtain it, the birth control movement would become a movement of tremendous power in the emancipation of the working class.” (from “Suppression”) Abortion is a socioeconomic issue more than a race issue. The mistake is easily made when we forget that race and class intersect in the United States.

In spite of these facts, Sanger wrote in “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda”, “As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit’, admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes.” While it is true that the poor tend to have larger birth rates with less means at their disposal to care for the children, this passage indicates Sanger’s early commitment to eugenics.

California’s prison system employed the decision of Buck v. Bell to forcibly sterilize 148 female prisoners without consent between 2006-10. Huffington Post writes, “In the past, sterilization of vulnerable populations in the name of ‘human betterment’ was carried out with legal authority and the backing of political elites. What current and past practices share is the assumption that some women by virtue of their class position, sexual behavior, or ethnic identity are socially unfit to reproduce and parent.” (“Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenics Patterns”, 7/23/2013) PBS.org states, “While California’s eugenics programs were driven in part by anti-Asian and anti-Mexican prejudice, Southern states also employed sterilization as a means of controlling African American populations.” (“Unwanted Eugenics and Sterilization Programs in the United States”, 1/29/ 2016)

However, Coretta Scott King had this to say about Margaret Sanger upon accepting the Margaret Sanger Award for Human Rights on behalf of her husband: “There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts.  …  Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by non-violent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her.” NPR recognizes in their Race Card Project that “black babies cost less to adopt” because of supply and demand. In other words, there are more black children prepared for adoption and less interest in adopting them.

***

Why have we come this far without questioning ourselves, white friends, white family, white society? It seems when the world turns a mirror to us, for us to look at ourselves, we would rather forget, argue, debate, make excuses.

I am not any better. I admit. I am not any better. It is a tough thing to look at yourself and say, “I can do better. I can encourage more equity.”

***

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about the United States. It isn’t about capitalism or socialism. Research South Africa, for instance, and find that the violence against white people is a result of a system that clearly is in favor of white people. Even post-Apartheid, Blacks are being shafted of opportunities. School books are free for white children. White farmers are wealthier and rely on the work of Black people.

This is an issue with humanity. This is an issue with the world. This is not an issue with specific groups, countries, or factions. I framed this essay in the context of my country, the USA, because this is where I see the most immediate effects of the problem. Being in the center of European imperialism and colonialism from the beginning, the United States is responsible for the lack of equity faced today.

In Timbuktu, Islamist insurgents torched two libraries containing historic manuscripts in 2013. Some of the material in the libraries dates back to the 13th century. On the edge of the Sahara, Africa preserves some of its vital history. In a battle for civilization, extremists torch the buildings. These documents include important translations of Plato, Hippocrates, and other Western thinkers, as well as writings on medicine, art, and philosophy. There are also Medieval copies of the Qur’an. Many of the manuscripts were evacuated with financial help from multiple organizations such as the Ford Foundation founded by Edsel and Henry Ford in 1936. Recalling my comments on Ford Motors earlier, perhaps we have come full circle and things are improving although only slightly? Are Blacks being recognized as independent, fully competent individuals now as compared to the Civil War era?

***

It is a difficult and sobering thing to let go of power. In order to see the reflection of one’s skin and the haughtiness of one’s attitude and acts, one must look into the eyes of another’s experiences.

***

Capitalism, emerging from the products of slavery through rapid industrialization, left many people out. Since the founding of the United States under the words “All men are created equal, entitled to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” there have been struggles to make this ideal into reality. Once John Jay, founding father, argued that ownership of property should be the sole criteria in considering the right to vote. The values of a capitalist society include the right to the product of one’s labor, free enterprise, and to do with one’s property what one decides in a fair and just manner.

The US Constitution declares we have a right to security in our persons and property. The US Constitution also declares we have a right to freedom of speech, religion, association, and peaceful petition. The world has been inspired by this model of democratic republicanism. The product of many noble minds put together through rational argumentation, the American federalist system provides a positive model for the world in struggles for freedom, as well as great abundance. With its checks and balances, both across government and the economy, the American system is constructed to encourage fairness and rational decision-making among free parties. The right to utilize one’s gifts is the epitome of justice. Human action, not time, will bring these ideals to greater fruition.

The American system is not inherently segregationist, but we still await justice to wash away this culture of supremacy entirely.

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The author thanks Dr. Reza Parchizadeh, Dr. Troy Camplin, and henry 7. reneau, jr. for their editorial contributions and guidance. 

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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

Categories
Review

‘God is a circle whose centre is everywhere’

Book Review by Dustin Pickering

Title: My Poetic Offering

Author: Manab Manik

Publisher: BooksClinic Publishing, 2019

Manab Manik’s My Poetic Offering is clearly an invocation to the Divine. Manik seeks the bosom of the Eternal Lord present in all religions and poetries. In this delightful and unpretentious presentation of sonnet-styled verse, the poet reminds us that divinity is not a fruitless quest. To seek the divine is the heart of poetry itself and the poet in these verses makes it abundantly obvious that he is presented with divinity in his soul. Edgar Allan Poe writes in The Veil of the Soul that the definition of art is “the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul”.

These verses are formal in character and not for the frivolous minds. These poems are not for indulgence but rather for enlightened thought. He writes in the opening poem ‘Prayer to the Almighty’:

Oh Lord! I have a simple prayer to thee,

I pray to thee,

I pray to thee,

Not for my own happiness and peace,

But for those,

Who remain in darkness,

Who are half-fed, unfed, and badly dressed.

The composition style is direct, formal, and delightful to read. Manik’s verses often are intoned with Wordworthian splendour in the “tranquil remembrance of emotion” to paraphrase the famous statement.  

Wordsworth writes a seeming reflection on the thought in ‘The Solitary Reaper’. He writes

“Behold her, single in the field,

Yon solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by herself;

Stop here, or gently pass!”

Manik seeks in solitude to enrapture himself around the question of divinity. These verses are not so much seeking, as expressing what is already found by the poet. God becomes a teacher and muse as in poems such as ‘Thorny Way of Thy Life to Immortality’ where the poet writes this sublime verse: “In my mind’s eye glows and glows thy life and thorn, / Leaving bloody foot-prints thou invent a wise morn.” Nature is seen a book in several poems such as ‘Thy Inspiring Eternal Voice’ and ‘Shining Pages of Thy Life-Book’.

The inspiration for My Poetic Offering is not the crowd of believers. Manik writes to the earnest seeker, but his work is consecrated to the power of God, and to God Himself in the most eloquent of commendations. We do not read about the poet in My Poetic Offering. This collection is not confessional and does not intend a social message. It is what it claims to be on the cover: an offering to God through poetry.

However, we question throughout how the poet comes to know God. Does he provide any clues?

Life’s indeed a pamphlet, not a great book tho’,

Its pages can be turned o’er and gone thro’ at one go.

But the pages of thy life-book’ll ne’er end and stop

Thy book neither white ants nor Time can tear and chop.

By invoking Nature as the presence of white ants, the poem endears the reader to a sense of gentleness and eternal love. Even the smallest creatures are life’s guidebook. However, something eternal and essential to life exists in the Beyond. The poet indicates eternity can be perceived through Nature.

With these notes, do we even conclude the poet knows God? In what sense does the poet know God? We understand through the lines of verse that the writing speaks for itself and is a consecration to divinity. However, we cannot assess how the poet concludes God actually exists. We can only surmise this through his eloquent and dedicatory verse written in passages such as:

The stars, planets, satellites’re lone in cosmic address,

But in my mind’s cosmos thou art crowned with laurel headdress.

(From ‘My Apollo’)

The individual mind grasps intuitively, or through faith, what is not revealed. Within each person, there is a universe; as microcosms, we contain infinitely small things within us.

Manib Manik is not a seeker himself but appears to one who is found. It is written in the Bhagavad Gita that, “Maya makes all things: what moves, what is unmoving. / O son of Kunti, that why the world spins…” and Jesus Christ speaks to the crowd thus, “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” (Matthew 6:28, KJV)

When someone is curious and lacks conceit in God, the Creator may make His presence known. However, it is a choice of the poet to use his gift to acknowledge the beautiful God within us all. In his designations and mythical allusions, Manik completes the circle of what we call divine humanity. St. Augustine wrote, “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and its circumference nowhere.” These poems express heady and highly refined sentiment toward God. With such spiritual fervour does the poet write that the reader may only listen to what he or she already intones within the soul.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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

Categories
Interview

A Renaissance Poet in the Twenty-First Century?

Dustin Pickering in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

He talks of love and religion and writes poetry that is often critiqued by some as similar to verses from the past. And his role model is from the Renaissance — Michelangelo. To some, he is a loyal friend in need, a person who whips up essays and articles on demand. He is often published within India, which could well be his second literary home. He is prolific with his writing and publishing. He also does paintings and sings songs with a guitar on you tube. Some might have guessed by now — he is Dustin Pickering.

Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press. This year one of their books, Neon Apolcalypse by Jake Tringali, has been nominated for the Elgin Award 2020 along with names like Ilya Kaminsky, Marge Simon and Brian Dietrich. Pickering is also the founding editor of Harbinger Asylum, which  was nominated for best poetry journal by the National Poetry Awards in 2013. That same year, Pickering participated in Houston’s Public Poetry reading series and was interviewed on 88.7 KUHF. He has been a featured poet for Ethos Literary Journal, a contributor to Huffington Post, and has published essays in Cafe Dissensus, Countercurrents, Borderless, Journal of Liberty and International Affairs, as well as reviews in The Statesman (India), Tuck Magazine, Lost Coast Review, World Literature Today, and Inverse Journal. He placed as a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal‘s 2018 short story contest, and was a Pushcart nominee in 2019.

His books include The Daunting Ephemeral, The Future of Poetry is NOW: bones picking at death’s howl, Salt and Sorrow, A Matter of Degrees, Knows No End, Frenetic/No Contest, The Alderman: spurious conversations with Jim Morrison, O’Riordan: spurious conversations with Dolores, The Madman and Fu, Be Not Afraid of What You May Find, The Red Velvet Robe, The Forever Abode, and a collaboration with Dory Williams called Imitations of Love Poems. He recently attended New York City Poetry Festival, and has been a reader at Austin International Poetry Festival many times. He hosts the interview and oddities for authors site thedailypoetsite.com. He co-edited the anthology Selfhood: Varieties of Experience, and published its companion Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love. He has written introductions for books by Amit Saha Sankar, Kiriti Sengupta, Bitan Chakraborty, and Jagari Mukhergee. He was given a Jury Prize at Friendswood Library’s Ekphrastic reading in 2019, and was awarded with honourable mention by The Friends of Guido Gozzano in 2019. He lives in Houston, Texas, USA. In this exclusive, Pickering reflects on his journey as a writer.

Why do you write?

Within me, there seems to be a deep passion and yearning for something inexplicable. I also write to combat doubts, leave a record of my thoughts for myself, and to tell the world whatever interior mysteries I uncover within my own mind and studies.

When and why did you start writing?

Very young. One boring day at home in 1st grade, I asked my grandmother what sort of activity I should do. She suggested I write a story about something I wanted but didn’t have. I wrote a children’s book called The Little Red Wagon about a child who loses a wheel on his wagon. He looks everywhere for it and finds it behind a tree where he least expected to find it.

What form came to you before — poetry or prose?

Prose, but poetry is always more natural to me.

Lots of your essays and poetry have to do with God or spirituality. What makes you weave these into your lore?

I was raised Catholic, and as they say, “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” I model myself after an early hero of my teen years, Michelangelo. I consider myself a person of Renaissance nature. I also believe we are in a pivotal moment in human history where the guidance of God and Spirit is needed. I think poets are the best people to bring this message to the world, that science and faith are compatible.

You have a whole book dedicated on God, I believe, which did rather well — Salt and Sorrow. Do you believe in God or are you an atheist? Do you believe in any religion? If you are an atheist why do you write on God?

I counted myself an atheist for many years, beginning at age 13. I was probably led there by the punk band Bad Religion and may have inherited it from my mother whose father was also an atheist. Yet some part of me felt connected to the mysteries of Spirit I could not apprehend and did not want to. Something moves the world and the universe, but I believe that is something I am inclined to believe is sentient, not merely pure accidental motion. I believe this because my life has always felt purposeful to me. I also borrow from Christian humanists such as Erasmus, the Renaissance artists, Shakespeare, many others who share a love for humanity and a sense of purpose for our existence. Although Macbeth did say:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

The use of the word “signifying” is mysterious to me. It seems to designate a sense of randomness or entropy — perhaps humankind is the idiot? Yet life is a tale told, passionately!

You have published Salt and Sorrow in India. Was there a reason for that?

I connected with publisher Kiriti Sengupta a few years ago after publishing the acclaimed Indian poet Usha Akella’s masterful work The Rosary of Latitudes. He saw a lot of my Facebook posts at the time concerning spirituality and asked me to write a collection that brought out “the God of the Bible.” For some reason, perhaps my sensibilities, I have developed a strong presence in India. I have never visited, but I hope to someday!

You often refer to fossil in your poetry, especially in your upcoming collection, The Skin of Reality, you have a poem that says, “I stare but see an empty fossil:/ what is final is never the end.” To what purport do you see the fossil? Is it a relic from the past? Why do you use the image of fossil?

The simple answer is I am fascinated by rocks, fossils, embodiments of history. What came before. It is still present in the very earth we walk on. I believe the human genome is a record of where we have been, and it also records where we are individually and contains a lot of animal history. Jung’s archetypes and collective consciousness seem to indicate this as well. As a child age 5, I used to sit on the playground where there were a lot of rocks. I picked them up, observed them. I kept some but the teacher told me I could not take them home. I told her they were fossils. She examined them herself and agreed, surprised. She allowed me to take one home. I still have it. That line seeks to illumine the truth I see that death is not final—who we are leaves an impression on the world irrevocably.

Where will you be bringing out this collection? In India or US?

I don’t have a publication plan right now. It is still in its infancy.

Where do you find/seek your inspiration?

Most of my ideas come from a lot of readings and thought. I don’t even entirely understand a lot of what I read, but it shapes my creative impulse in an extraordinary way. I am very forgetful too, so I have to continuously reinvent myself and how I choose to express my ideas. A lot of my imagery comes from life, including my long battle with mental health struggles.

Which writers fascinate you the most? Have any of them influenced your writing?

I cite as my primary influences in thought and writing the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and The Holy Bible, particularly The Old Testament. I also am intrigued by mystical writings from the Kabbalah, St. John of the Cross, sacred Hindu texts such as The Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, St. Francis of Assisi, and the endless list of mystics. I also found metaphysical poetry interesting in my college years. I accidentally stumbled upon John Donne and found him interesting. Milton influenced me in my teen years as well. My senior yearbook quote was, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.”

I love the surrealist poetry of David Gascoyne. I read all of William Blake, W H Auden, and a long list of others, but those seemed to have left the strongest impression. I’m also interested in psychoanalysis and have read a lot of Anthony Storr, Freud, Jung, Kay Redfield Jamison, and several others.

I appreciate philosophy too, and enjoy works by Plato and Aristotle, Heidegger, Sartre, Emerson, Burton, and many others. Among fiction writers, I enjoy Henry James, Tennessee Williams, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Hermann Melville, Dostoevsky, and many others. I especially love Dostoevsky’s psychological acumen in The Double. I tend to prefer short fiction but have read all of Joyce. Nietzsche has invaluable insights into the art of writing, but you have to mine them.

You bring out a popular quarterly, Harbinger Asylum. Did you start that? When and why?

I founded the journal in 2010 with my longtime friend Alex Maass who sometimes writes the “Not Quite a Political Column” and suggests themes. I started it after a poetry gathering at University of Houston-Clear Lake. I was invited by my new friend at the time Dru Watkins, who was an early contributor, and after coming home I thought about how I could better serve the literary community. The journal started with an anarchist bent and I published a lot of libertarian writing. I also included writing by friends. Over the years, we’ve had submissions from highly regarded poets such as Simon Perchik, Joseph Bottone, and others whose names I ran across before getting their submissions. Later on, we acquired two new editors Z. M. Wise and Stuti Shree. Z. M. is my good friend and business partner, and Stuti is a university student in India.

You run a blog that belongs to Transcendent Zero Press. It is a strange name. Any reason for calling it as such?

Transcendent Zero Press is the company through which I publish Harbinger Asylum, as well as other books. It’s the name of my publishing company. Years ago, it was my punk band that never happened. I liked the concept. So, I re-made it into the publishing company.

It began with a word I read in the dictionary combined with the popular song “Zero” by Smashing Pumpkins. I thought it had a distinct conceptual flavor. Ultimately, I also designed the logo to be conceptual. On one side of the zero, there is a dark crescent. The other side has a bright crescent. This symbolizes Ultimate Nothingness, the idea that all is in harmony. Essentially my own mystical concept. Then a “T” crosses it, symbolizing the axis of the universe. I also conceived of God as having the qualities the Tao ascribes to great leaders. A person who does nothing yet let’s all happen. Lao Tzu wrote, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.” Zero signifies such an approach to life.

What are your future plans as a writer, editor and publisher?

We recently expanded into publishing literary criticism. So far, the books have dealt with Indian works in English. I would like to publish more literary criticism but about literature in other countries. We will soon have an anthology of Albanian poetry released. I’m interested in Southeast European literature as well. I may publish a broad collection of Edgar Lee Masters’ lesser known work. I have a friend, Dr. Ryan Guth, who plans to work that out for us.

Any message for aspiring writers?

My English teacher in high school Mrs. Teltschik used to say, “Write because you have to.” Something in you must answer a call. Write to contribute but write for yourself. It is hard to break in at all. Don’t shoot high if you are young unless you have exceptional talent, connections, or both. Work your way through. Don’t be afraid to learn. Be thankful and mindful of all your successes, and consider failure and rejection an instructor, not an obstacle. Don’t fear revision. Stay focused. Write a lot. Read a lot. Find what makes you spin rapturously and write about it. Keep a journal, especially if you are young. Don’t throw away your writing. Mine old material or edit when you are dry on inspiration. Most of all, learn to enjoy! Live as well as write. Travel!

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

Categories
Editorial

As Time Flies…

Hello World!

And what a lovely and magical life it is despite the COVID 19 — which I am sure we will battle, even if the path seems long. Meanwhile, we remain connected in this virtual world of friendship, harmony and giving!

We completed another month! And what a month it has been — the two greatest bards celebrated their birthdays — Shakespeare and Tagore. We carried an essay on one and a discussion between two greats of modern Indian literature on the other! Other than that, more essays, stories, musings, translations and poetry took our readers globe-trotting. We are doing our best to seamlessly create a world of ideas in which we can drift effortlessly and find a whole new world where we can all meet to have exchanges beyond borders drawn by the exigencies of history, politics, economics, greed and more.

Writers are doing such a wonderful job of connecting us with similar concerns worldwide. Our experiences with COVID 19 and quarantine actually unite us in a large way as humans. One of our story writers has plucked the heart strings of readers across oceans on distant lands and received many encomiums for it. We all seem to be getting more linked by the pandemic caused by the corona virus, giving all of us time to pause and reflect on the commonality of human sufferings, as shown by the narratives from different parts of the world in the journal.

We continue to be fortunate to find many of our pieces a second home in Countercurrents.org. I am also happy to announce we have been listed again as one of the top places for submissions in an Indian site this time.

We have more happening here with all the action from our dynamic editorial board. Dustin Pickering, the editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum, on our editorial board, has suggested a promotion for us in his quarterly this July. So, some of our authors will be republished in hard copy from USA in the summer edition of Harbinger Asylum.

We are also starting a young persons’ section from the end of this month. This will be organised by Bookosmia, a children’s publisher. The founder of this popular children’s publishing concern, Nidhi Mishra, also on our editorial board, will be giving us the best from her blog for youngsters and we will exhibit it in our new section called Sara’s Selection.

We want this to be a family friendly journal and to nurture young talents along with established writers. You can check our submissions if you want to publish in the young person’s section, which will cater to aspiring writers under eighteen. We have an email — sara@bookosmia.com – which will take you straight to Bookosmia and the submission of the under-eighteen’s section of both BookOsmia and ours. We will be publishing only a few selected pieces from their blog and others could just be featured in Bookosmia, the blog run by the publisher.

We welcome children from all over the world to write in to Sara. The tie has been announced by Bookosmia in The Hindu, a well-known and established newspaper in India. I am attaching a link to the news below*.

We are overwhelmed with support from all of you and are looking into the periodicity of the Borderless Journal and will be announcing more changes next month on June 14th.

As we move forward in the spirit of Ubuntu or “oneness to humanity”, towards a world filled with love and kindness, where vibrancy and positivity can wash away darkness and hatred, where the freedom of speech does not descend to narrow abuse and anger, marginalisation and boundaries, I welcome you all to write in to me if you feel we need to expand our horizons further.

As I bid you adieu for another month, I hope you will keep reading our journal and writing for us.

Best wishes,

Happiness and Peace,

Mitali Chakravarty, Founding Editor, Borderless Journal.

*Click here to read about Bookosmia and our plans in this report in The Hindu.

Categories
Essay

No One Is Tamed, No One Is Equal

Dustin Pickering on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

A literary work is often a code that reveals distinct things. Sometimes these things are simply too advanced or the logic of them too cruel. The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays and its language is easily read and understood. However, the embedded symbolism may pass by even the most astute mind.

The play is obviously about gender battles, and it seems to some that Kate is tamed by her husband. However, a deeper look at the intricately woven tropes exhumes a critique of culture, a sense of equal justice, and the way institutions impress on our minds. The play extends beyond property relations and the inequality of women. It also poaches one of theatre’s daunting faults. In Shakespeare’s day, women could not play the female roles and instead teenage boys were selected. The theatre was considered dangerous and women too unfit to perform. There was lead in the makeup and the stage action too rough. Theatre was too bawdy.

The Taming of the Shrew contains puns on horses, games, “moveables”, music, and theatre itself. Props or “furniture” signify costumes; there are witty puns revealing the dissembling nature of appearances. In Act IV, Scene III, Petruchio says, “And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, / So honor peereth in the meanest habit.” The sun in this respect is the human mind because it is “the mind that makes the body rich”. After Petruchio is delivered a faulty wedding dress, he pontificates on the problem of physical beauty. It is true that he uses this reasoning to tame Katherina. It is part of the ploy to obfuscate her with a list of her own faults. He seeks to embody her worst aspects so she can learn from them how devilish they are. This discussion concerning the gown further moves toward critiquing the use of teenage boys to fill roles meant for females. Again, Petruchio: “is the adder better than the eel, / Because his painted skin contents the eye?” I remind the reader of the lead makeup.

Perhaps Shakespeare intends to remind us real world experience supplements bookish learning. When Vincenti is confused with a young virgin boy by Katherina (Act IV, Scene V), she realizes her error and admits to being “bedazzled with the sun”. Taking up from the aforementioned sun symbolism, Katherina’s error stands in as a trope for pure reason. With pure reason absent of categories, all things merge without identity or qualities. Her vision of green is one of seeing the world “light”. Much of the symbolism in The Taming of the Shrew references binaries such as bottom/top and heavy/light. There is a wild pun on the nature of matter. Actualities contain density while potentialities are ethereal. In an early passage, Tranio prescribes a middle way between the Stoics and Ovid. He advises Lucentio, “The mathematics, and the metaphysics, / Fall to them as you find your stomach serves you: / no profit grows where no pleasure is ta’en.”

Other engaging puns bring to mind property relationships of the Elizabethan era. A role reversal encouraged by Petruchio, of Katherina and Dian, and the playful engagement of dungeon metaphors parody imprisonment. I doubt it can be said with certainty what sort of political statement Shakespeare is making. Is he reflecting the faults of that era, or is he acclimatised to them? The bandying about concerning an imprisoned Kate, her shrewness, and the several occasions where property relations speak on their own behalf invite me to this conclusion: the play is comedic not just in form, but it is a satire of an unequal socio-political environment.

Continuous role reversals, contradictions, and allusions to myths concerning rape and chastity lead me to assume the play indicates that property relations sever our deepest humanity. Katherina can either be her husband’s chattel slave, or she can remain chaste. Both these options are not appealing and neither can be safely ruled out. Perhaps Petruchio marries for the dowry, or maybe he realises his error. After all, the play puns and moralises on looking beyond surface appearances.

Katherina is intent on remaining a shrew but Petruchio is set in taming her. Perhaps in the process both learn something new.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Categories
Poetry

The Moment and more…

By Dustin Pickering

The Moment

Before I met you, my life was full of joy.
Before I met you, my life was full of fear.

The day I met you was fearful and joyful,
a joyous unbinding from merciless wounds.

Fear thrust into my heart to unearth joy.
I rejoiced in seeing you, and love you.

You are my heart, and you are satisfied with love.
You are satiated with my companionship.

What we become together depends so much on Being:
Being is continuity of action, and love must be forever.

















promising darkness

words in violation
of strict premises
	glory or face
times diluted in fear

pretense tightens the mask
a failure of childhood
	buried beside insolence
your mind lays unaddressed

who opened the door to chaos
feelings flayed in the open
	dreams and reflections
against promising darkness
















Empty Longing

I don't exist: that helpless look of duty 
is empty longings, friend. 

If your angel only cast one lumbering breath 
to hunt holiness, he will blind the livid temper 
to its egging impulses. 

Heed this prayer, o wicked deliverance, 
if kisses are tied to innocence.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Categories
Poetry

love quarantined

By Mallika Bhaumik

I pull up the blinds
and look at the glassy darkness waiting outside,
night is a pause,
droplets of the day's fatigue gathered in its palm,
its sighs and shadows coming back 
like cards from an anonymous lover, his
unclaimed love.
An insomniac tells the tale 
of the time that has flown through me, its slippery mossy trail, 
of a heart that remains folded in a Kashmiri wooden box, the smell of unread verses,
the fluid love of Darbari Kanada slow dance on my skin.

I close my eyes
Night becomes a long lonely stretch of asphalt
sound of footsteps fading, mingling with the dark 
an eerie silence envelopes a fear 
stretching itself to the fragile china cup that brings the day to my lips,
the quotidian of virus laden news and hand sanitisers follow me
a black kitten mews around the bin
I go through another day of quarantine.

Mallika Bhaumik has a Master’s degree in English from the university of Calcutta.Her works have been widely published in reputed e mags like Cafe Dissensus, Shot Glass journal, Harbinger Asylum, Mad Swirl, In Parentheses, Madras Courier to name a few. Her first book of poems, Echoes (2017) by Authorspress, has won the Reuel International Award for the best debut poetry collection, 2018. Her second book of poetry is, How not to remember (2019) by Hawakal Publishers. She is a nominee for the Pushcart Prize for poetry, 2019. Her poems have been included in the PG syllabus of BBKM university, Dhanbad (2020). She lives and writes from Kolkata

Categories
Poetry

In Solitude’s Splendour

By Christopher Manners


In Solitude’s Splendour 


In solitude’s splendour, I was blessed
by that graciously guiding breeze,
fervently free with towering thoughts,
as I philosophized amidst the trees,
energized as I examined existence,
contemplating through the destined day,
curiously seeking that cosmic clarity,
while the swift birds seemed to play.

And suddenly I was jolted by joy,
as a resplendent and racing river
overflowing on its progressing path,
as the forest did decisively deliver
this serene sense of triumphant trust
in the universe, its underlying frame,
in the valiant vessel’s secure voyage,
with old anxieties to finally tame.

Immersed in that ecstatic elation,
though the experience was only brief,
it had this lasting influential impact,
vanquishing all my grueling grief,
as I was past my small worrying self,
in this euphoric expanse and tied
momentarily to the river’s source,
while the Sun’s chariot I did ride.

Christopher Manners has had 2 poetry books published by Poetica Press – Sophia Perennis.  He has also had poems published by Harbinger Asylum. Born and residing near Toronto, Canada, he has a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from York University.   Manners is the founder of poetryimmortal.com, a poetry blog and encyclopedia dedicated to the classics. 

Categories
Essay

Poetry as Utopia and Apocalypse

By Dustin Pickering

The word “prophet” is rooted in the Greek word prophetes, a word that breaks down etymologically into “to speak before or foretell”. A soothsayer is considered a prophet in the sense that he foretells events. Such is the soothsayer in Julius Caesar who tells Caesar to “beware of the ides of March” when he was doomed to assassination. The Prophetic books of the Old Testament inform the people of Israel what God desires of them and what will happen if they disobey His commands. In Amos 3:7, it is written: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” This designates the place of the prophet as one who knows God’s secrets. Amos reveals that the prophets had been instructed to remain silent until the burden became too great. Throughout Scripture, there is a love for justice which maintains the distinct definition of sympathy for the disadvantaged, and upholding God’s Word. A prophet is thus one who speaks on behalf of God Himself. The prophet Amos indicates throughout that the Lord will speak when He is out of patience. God is a God of all nations and will not tolerate disobedience even from Israel.

The Arab poet, Adonis, said, “It is an awful idea that after this one prophet, after this one book, everything would be said and written, isn’t it? If Mohammed would really be the last of the prophets, then no human word can be uttered anymore, and even much more frightening, no divine word either. The holy book is a trap closing in on us. Every monotheistic religion has the same problem. Christianity had the chance to avoid the trap but it didn’t. It identified itself with power and it embraced dogmatics.” Here we have a radical view that prophecy continues in the modern world. Richard Wilbur in “Advice to a Prophet” writes:

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.   

How should we dream of this place without us?—

The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,   

A stone look on the stone’s face?”

Here the poet is a prophet of a particular kind. Bringing God’s message to the people becomes something peculiar— in this, the prophet defines the meaning of humanity. The role of prophet in Wilbur’s poem is one who does not warn of the imminent threats to human life, but rather defines the human role within Nature and Being itself. The modern reflection of God is much more personal and forgiving. As stated by Adonis, Christianity could have unleashed the powers of human language but, instead, gave way to power structures. Language carries the unique gift of uniting disparate things. The power of analogy is that of reconciliation. The poet, with his or her unique gift, invites comparisons between things that have little in common as if to agree with Heraclitus who wrote, “All things contain their opposites.” Perhaps not their opposites, but definitely things of dissimilar nature. The dark contains the light, and the light is contained by the dark. One interiorises the other. This strange capacity of language to reveal what is concealed in the dark is a magic of its own. A word is a form of conjuration, something brought into being by shining a light on it. That light itself is the poem—a unified body of language that conditions the reader to a certain subjectivity, thus causing the reader to recognise some hidden aspect of him or herself.

What is this thing of revelation? “Apocalypse” is from the Greek apokalupsis which means to unveil, uncover. The nightmarish visions portrayed in Revelations are considered to be end of the world prophecies. The opening of the scrolls, the rivers of blood, the hellfire and dragon tossed into the pit: these things are seen as happening at the endtimes. This branch of Biblical study is called eschatology. What is it that eschatology uncovers? What is God unveiling to us in His prophetic writings?

 Is it that true theology, the branch of learning concerned with the study of God, includes a side of God we are less acquainted to receive and understand? In Answer to Job, Carl Jung proposes what he called the Quaternity. According to Frith Luton, “The quaternity is one of the most widespread archetypes and has also proved to be one of the most useful schemata for representing the arrangement of the functions by which the conscious mind takes its bearings.” In Answer to Job, Jung writes of Job himself, “Because of his littleness, puniness, and defencelessness against the Almighty, he possesses, as we have already suggested, a somewhat keener consciousness based on self-reflection: he must, in order to survive, always be mindful of his impotence. God has no need of this circumspection, for nowhere does he come up against an insuperable obstacle that would force him to hesitate and hence make him reflect on himself.” The Quarternity is an extension of the Trinity. Jung believed the traditional conception of God was lacking. He invented the Quarternity to define the evil face of God. Thus, God becomes a holistic vision of the cosmos.

In Answer to Job, Jung portrays a human god who is capable of feeling guilty. In the end, Jesus is sacrificed not to cleanse humankind of sin but to rid God himself of guilt. Why wouldn’t God share the being of that created in His image? However, traditional theology includes a study of theodicy or reconciling divine goodness with the existence of evil. The ultimate question is why God might permit evil. We might even ask what constitutes a definition of evil. C. S. Lewis writes in Defense of Christianity, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.” However, the definition here has an inevitable fallacy. In using free will to excuse God of wrongdoing, Lewis tells us he cannot imagine a free creature that has no capacity to do wrong. In applying this logic to God Himself, we are left with two possibilities. Either God isn’t a free creature, or God is also capable of wrong. In what capacity could God not be free? God is seen as “omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.” He is defined as sui generis, a being that causes itself. How could a self-caused being not maintain perfect autonomy? If God has will, He must have the ability to err if we take Lewis’s definition at face value.

 Continuing along my original line of inquiry concerning the Apocalypse. What does it say about God’s nature? One, it demonstrates that we as fallible creatures are capable of causing great destruction. Why is that quality inherent in us? The Apocalypse, or “unveiling”, is shown to be final — creation is revealed for its full promise. The conclusion of time is the extinction of choice — it is ultimate revelation of true being. All secrets come undone. The lid to Pandora’s box is unclasped and all evil is unleashed. This tells us that something is hidden within Creation itself. Our awareness is incomplete. The Apocalypse completes that awareness and shows us the purpose we missed—complete annihilation. Why should God desire the annihilation of His creation? Why did He command the death of His Son as a sacrifice to the world?

Humankind is bent on forging a utopia, a paradise that lasts eternally. Behaviorist B. F. Skinner invented a utopia based on his model of psychological conditioning where people are entirely robbed of choice. Instead they are conditioned by authorities to fit their chosen roles. This theory is presented in Walden Two. In this novel, Skinner applies his understanding of behaviorist psychology to the creation of a perfect society. Children are conditioned to perform certain roles from the onset. Each person has a role chosen for them. What we don’t consider is who is making the decisions for the roles given to each person. By nature, this model eliminates choice by individuals—yet how is there any order without choice? The authorities are making the ultimate decisions but who chooses that role for them? In this utopian vision, we see a flaw inherent in the system itself. Humankind is robbed of “freedom and dignity” for the sake of a perfect community conditioned to serve the aims of the community as a whole. Yet what criteria is used to sponsor this concept of communal well-being? Again, who decides?

Aldous Huxley presents us with a similar enigma in Brave New World. This is a utopia that is so oblivious to its flaws that it is dystopian to the onlooker. People are robbed of dignity again, but in the process, they become childlike in their understanding. Human misery is alien to them because they take measures to eliminate it and inoculate themselves from it. The results are the same. We are left with a set of social engineers who demonstrate scientific objectivity in their observations. They comment on the community, applying their superior awareness of things. Knowledge is too specialised in such a community. It becomes the risk of those designated to “know” rather than the shared offerings of the community. So much for community.

Lois Lowry’s The Giver is another dystopian vision where knowledge becomes specialized for a few. The Giver is a person who is entrusted with the collective history of humankind, and this person imparts it to another person as the role is relinquished. This arrangement resembles the pagan priesthoods where the Eleusinian mysteries were kept secret exempting those initiated into the sacred cult. What did these secret rites entail? No one knows because they are extinct. However, the parables of Jesus Christ contain a certain mystery to them. They are the prophecy of God in themselves. Jesus was known for his unique gifts of teaching and language. The ancient prophecies concerning him told us that he would not be physically attractive so that his message would be the accent of his coming to the earth. In Matthew 13:11, Jesus answers his disciples who ask why he taught in parables. “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” So, what are the rites of the initiated?

Paul the Apostle writes in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Jesus is also described as the unveiling in various verses—thus the Apocalypse is understood as the wedding of the Paschal Lamb. In Exodus 12, the Paschal Lamb is the sacrifice whose blood is put on the doors of the firstborn of Israel so the avenging angel would spare them. Jesus Christ is seen as the Paschal Lamb in the New Testament whose blood protects believers from the avenging angel, or Satan. In Revelations 19:7 it is written, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.”

It seems God spares those He decides to spare. The firstborn of Israel were spared by Moses’ prayer and desire for their freedom from Egypt. One man’s strong desire for the justice of his people pleases God. As we know, Israel would later also sin and be condemned. However, the revelations of Israel became the truth of all of the nations and God’s people span the entire world.

The relationship of utopia and apocalypse is nowhere more apparent than in the Holy Bible. God defines Israel’s purpose. History shows they failed in acknowledging God after His power rescued them from Pharaoh. Even Moses came up short of God’s will and was not permitted to see the Kingdom of God. One universal truth of Scripture is that all of us, no matter how holy or chosen, fall short of God’s grace. It is thus we see the emergence of Original Sin. Original Sin is itself a revelation of St. Augustine, early Church father and Christian apologist. He began his journey in truth as a Manichean. In Confessions, he tells us that God showed him the error of his ways. It was then he discovered the power of Original Sin—that darkness cast on the world by Adam’s first disobedience. We are created in God’s image but are not God Himself; Jesus Christ alone is seen as the true image and equal of God in his Passion and innocence.

In short, utopia is the promise we can redeem ourselves with radical changes to our world or relations. Utopians tell us that their vision is superior and if we conform to it, we will all be better off. Politicians are often utopians with realist proclamations. They desire to shape the world in their own image, as God did with us, and grant us our salvation. The poets use utopia as a vision—it becomes a kind of mnemonic device in understanding the nature of the world. Prophecy is a revelation of utopia—which is modeled after God’s being. Our concepts of goodness are even deficient, but we all desire to live in a world of productivity and happiness for all. A poet casts his or her eyes forward to a world known in the imagination. Such visions shape the world as ideas and influence our thinking. The Romantics, for instance, were conservative republicans. They desired freedom from authoritarian righteousness—both political and religious autonomy. William Blake, an Anabaptist, voiced these visions the best in All Religions Are One. He writes, “That the Poetic Genius is the true Man, and that the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius.” He further explains that all nations experience this poetic genius differently. He defines this capacity as prophecy. Our true state of Being is poetic. Our form is a distinct relationship to that poetic being. Poetry, then, is being itself expressed in variety.

I remind the reader again of Heraclitus: “All things contain their opposites.” Therefore, what we see conceals a deeper mystery and faith. Even consciousness withholds certain fundamental values and truths from us. The unveiling of those values and truths has great destructive and restorative power. The Apocalypse is a lifting of the veil of consciousness to bring the powers of wholeness to Being. It is ultimate light and extinction—and therefore it is a vital annihilation. The power of chaos is spoken of in Genesis where we see God wrestling with the deep to create a new world. The creation of a new world from rough matter is the very act from the spirit of utopia. Utopians desire to restructure existence to perfect it. God summons His powers of light to unveil the cloud of unknowing.

Poetry as Being and Knowledge is the truth of God. It declares itself to the world and seeks to order it and restore its original purpose. However, the poet is largely unconscious of this power when he or she writes. Language is the poet’s tool. The poet casts language like a net to gather truth and display it to the world. The poet is a maker, a prophet, a seer, a utopian radical.

The Poet is the sheer image of God and the shadow of Christ’s spirit.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.