This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"I've Been To Auschwitz" by Stefan S. Sencerz



I
When I was 16, still in high-school, I took a trip to Auschwitz. It was a hot sunny Summer day when I hit the road. I hitchhiked up the Vistula river the ancient city of Krakow, then further into the mountains, Auschwitz on the way.

The buildings of the main camp are made of red bricks, still look solid. The iron gate welcomes with the Inscription: ARBEIT MACHT FREI -- WORK LIBERATES.

Inside, several huge rooms, each filled with hair, combs, toothbrushes, eyeglasses, razors, belts, prosthetics, shoes, many of them children's shoes. . .

I could not speak
for several days.


II
Years passed. My mother gives me a tour of Auschwitz and the sister-camp of Brzezinka -- Birkenau, Birch Forest. The forest of chimneys spread for miles along the railway tracks welcomes us. Most barracks were burned to cover the crimes. Only a few survived and the dead forest of chimneys.

Gas chambers at the end of the tracks, crematoria-furnaces right behind. All is neat and efficient. 3 million people were killed here.

My mother stops by the crematorium, says: "Sometimes we heard the screams as if people were thrown alive into the furnace." I want to embrace her, tell her I know. But she's already taken off, marches, measures her steps like someone who knows exactly where she is going. I follow her into one of the barracks.

She stops by an alcove 2 by 2 yards, three shelves of wooden planks inside, points to the top one, says: "Tutaj spalam. Here's where I slept." "Alone?" I ask. "No, 10-12 women shared the bunk. One blanket, sometimes two. It wasn't all bad. We cuddled when it was cold."

She leads to a central place where the roll-call was taken, twice a day. "We would stand for hours in cold, wind, snow, rain, especially when anyone had tried to escape. Sometimes the guards would bring them back and torture them in front of us," she says.

We walk to the parking lot. My mother stops by the Wall of Dead, kneels down, pulls out her cherry wood rosary worn thin by the touch of generations: "Swiêta Marjo! Matko Boga! Módl siê za nami grzesznymi, teraz i w gozinê naszej smierci," she whispers and I join her with Zen chant: "Namu Dai Bosa! Homage to the Great Compassionate One!"
Holy Maria!
Namu Dai Bosa!
Mother of God!
Namu Dai Bosa!
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death!

I raise my eyes. Calm mountaintops loom on the horizon.


III
My mother and I watch "The Trial in Nuremberg" in her tiny apartment overlooking the Vistula river. Hermann Goering, second in the Reich only to Hitler, claims to be oblivious to what happened in the camps.

My mother says, "Let's take a walk along the river. Wild geese may need food."



I typically post videos of poems before the poems, but I felt that the written poem was stronger than the performance simply because of the unbearable lightness of being in Part III, which is omitted from the video, in part, I believe, because it is very difficult to convey that sensation in a poetry slam opposed to a featured performance or a page read.

This poem was performed as a group piece with Stefan S. Sencerz and Amalia Ortiz, from the National Poetry Slam in Chicago 2003, where I first heard it.





Stefan S. Sencerz is professor of philosophy at Texas A&M in Corpus Cristi. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Rochester in 1992. He teaches Introduction to Philosophy, Foundations of Professional Ethics, Issues in Philosophy of Religion, Environmental Ethics, Eastern Spirituality and Western Thought, War, Terrorism & Ethics, Zen: Culture and Art and Philosophy & Science Fiction.

His published papers cover ethics and moral philosophy.

He published his first poem, "Writing a Poem," in ByLine magazine, issue 224, July/August 1999, and has since been published in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Freedom to Speak: National Poetry Slam 2002, and From Page to Stage and Back Again: The 2003 National Poetry Slam, di-verse-city; Anthology of Austin International Poetry Festival, 2004 (ed. Vicki Goldsberry ); a runner-up in the competition for The Christina Sergeyevna Award.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Where am I from?" by Stefan S. Sencerz


An earlier draft appeared in From Page to Stage and Back Again: The 2003 National Poetry Slam, ed. by Michael Salinger, Lucy Anderton and Regie Gibson (Wordsmith Press, 2004), pp. 20-21.

I first heard this moving poem at Southwest Shootout in Austin, Texas. To begin the poem, Stefan Sencerz instructed the crowd to phonetically pronounce the Polish tongue twister "Chrzaszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Strzebrzeszynie," and after we terribly repeated the finally assembled phrase, he said, "see how easy that was?" then proceeded to launch into the poem. It is best read while imagining it performed with an incredibly thick Polish accent.



"Where am I from?
By Stefan S. Sencerz

Over and over and over again
I great people with the usual "How are you?"
and hear "What's up? Where are you from?"

"Detroit," I say, for I spent four great years in Motown,
I left my heart in that town I found sunshine
on a cloudy day, I still root for the Pistons.

"I knew you were not from here,"
I heard in Texas where I live now
most of the time I meet with an incredulous stare
"Yeah! Right! Detroit?! Where are you really from??"

I ponder this question for the matter is serious,
feel like a beginner about to meet the Zen mind --

Where am I from, really, Who am I?
What was my face before my parents were born?
What is the sound of one hand?

I don't know. So I say, "I was born in Warsaw, Poland."
"Say something in Polish!" I hear and oblige
"Chrzaszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Strzebrzeszynie."

This sounds so weird that one can doubt it means anything, but it does:
Chrzaszcz is a scarab, a kind of beetle, "brzmi" means "resounds,"
"w" stands for "in" or "amongst," trzcina is a kind of reed,
and "Strzebrzeszyn" a name for a village.
A scarab resounds amongst reeds, in the village of Strzebrzeszyn.
Easy to say, if you are native,
some claim impossible, if Polish is your second language..

Whichg leads me to my father
it's Warsaw, 1943, the midst of the war
my father, an officer of Polish underground receives an order
to meet someone whom he had never seen before.
So they must identify each other, they exchange the password
greed each other with the usual

"Jak sie masz?"
"How are you?"
"Where are you from?"

"I am from Warsaw," my father says.
"Great," the guy continues, "I need to get some tobacco?"
"The best tobacconist is right here, right across the park,"
my father completes the password for now he knows
this is the right guy
the guy he was supposed to meet
and kill
a suspected Nazi spy.

They walk through the park.
My father pulls out a pistol, points at the guy
"You've been tried for treason , sentenced to death.
In the name of the Polskiej Rzezcpospolitej . . . "
And the guy says, "It's is some kind of mistake."
So my father says, it's no mistake, we have surveillance photos of you.
And the guy pulls out a photo of his young children
bursts into tears and swears upon their heads and the love of the virgin Mary
that he is innocent.
So, my father says, "Who are you, really? I need some proof!"
And the guy says, "Jestem Polakiem. I'm Polish."
"Chrzaszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Strzebrzeszynie,"
fluently without any mistakes.
And my father
had mercy for him, and let him go.

Sometimes I wonder how could he trust him
burdened by his orders
burdened by the trust of his friends
what would I've done had I been there?
I don't know.
I never had to kill someone who looked straight into my eyes and cried.
I still do not know where I am really from.



Stefan S. Sencerz is professor of philosophy at Texas A&M in Corpus Cristi. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Rochester in 1992. He teaches Introduction to Philosophy, Foundations of Professional Ethics, Issues in Philosophy of Religion, Environmental Ethics, Eastern Spirituality and Western Thought, War, Terrorism & Ethics, Zen: Culture and Art and Philosophy & Science Fiction.

His published papers cover ethics and moral philosophy.

He published his first poem, "Writing a Poem," in ByLine magazine, issue 224, July/August 1999, and has since been published in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Freedom to Speak: National Poetry Slam 2002, and From Page to Stage and Back Again: The 2003 National Poetry Slam, di-verse-city; Anthology of Austin International Poetry Festival, 2004 (ed. Vicki Goldsberry ); a runner-up in the competition for The Christina Sergeyevna Award.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Despite misquotation, Jared Lee Loughner is no 'slam poet'

I wish people would stop referring to alleged Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner as a "slam poet."

That apparently comes from this quote in an Associated Press news story:

"'He made a lot of the people really uncomfortable, especially the girls in the class,' said Steven Cates, who attended an advanced poetry writing class with Loughner at Pima Community College last spring. Though he struck up a passing friendship with Loughner, he said a group of other students went to the teacher to complain about Loughner at one point.

"Another poetry student, Don Coorough, said Loughner read a poem about bland tasks such as showering, going to the gym and riding the bus in wild 'poetry slam' style - 'grabbing his crotch and jumping around the room.'

"When other students, always seated, read their poems, Coorough said Loughner 'would laugh at things that you wouldn't laugh at.' After one woman read a poem about abortion, 'he was turning all shades of red and laughing,' and said, 'Wow, she's just like a terrorist, she killed a baby,' Coorough said.

"'He appeared to be to me an emotional cripple or an emotional child,' Coorough said. 'He lacked compassion, he lacked understanding and he lacked an ability to connect.'

"Cates said Loughner 'didn't have the social intelligence, but he definitely had the academic intelligence.'"

As an Arizona slam poet, one who legally owns several guns and a concealed weapons permit, going on a shooting spree isn't on my list of things to do. Part of the reason poets write poetry is because any frustration with have with the system, society or our personal lives already has a means of release, our words.

Be wary of the people who don't write poetry is all I'm saying. Who knows what's bottled up in there. At least with poets, you clearly know what special species of asshole we are by the end of a poem.

Being in a poetry class and performing poetry in a crazy fashion does not necessarily make one a slam poet. Going to a poetry slam and competing does. To my knowledge, none of the Tucson poets have said, "shit, we knew that Loughner guy, he slammed once!"

As such, we do not claim him.

(However, I have met poets to which this applies: "'He appeared to be to me an emotional cripple or an emotional child,' Coorough said. 'He lacked compassion, he lacked understanding and he lacked an ability to connect.'" You know who you are.)

Additionally, it seems as though both the Left and Right have jumped on this shooting for their own ends. The Right claims he was a crazed communist lefty nutcase who read The Communist Manifesto while the Left claims it was Sarah Palin's gunsight poster and the Right's "vitriolic" rhetoric.

Neither. Motha-fuckin' crazy is motha-fuckin' crazy.

To whit:
1) Have you ever know anyone who posts on a social networking site that one of their favorite book is The Community Manifesto to have actually read The Community Manifesto (unless they actually live in a commune and regularly attend Communist Party meetings)? No. And you haven't either.
2) Loughner's YouTube videos make no sense. Watch them. They are full of nonsensical, rambling syllogisms. You'll see someone who was not thinking rationally.
3) There's no evidence that Loughner tried to assassinate anyone because of what he saw, heard, or read. He had a lack of connection to the outside world; there's little evidence that what was going on outside would have made it into his skull; if so, he would have been more coherent in his communication in reverse, back toward us through his YouTube videos, a suicide note or manifesto.
4) Assassinations and political attacks are done for reasons, even if just to gain fame. Even Al-Qaida posts videos following suicide bombings. John Hinckley Jr. shot Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Otherwise political attacks have no meaning outside of any random attack on any random person.

When the trial is over, if he's even ruled competent to stand trial, I feel we'll see Loughner's motives are more aligned with someone like Mark David Chapman - who shot John Lennon because voices in his head said he was the "Catcher in the Rye" - than because Sarah Palin made a lame poster or because Glen Beck has a potato for a brain.

That being said, all my best to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other survivors. My condolences to the familes of the six victims.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sedona Poetry Open Mic kicks off 2011 this Thursday

Sedona Poetry Open Mic – open mic poets needed

From 5 to 7 p.m., poets take the stage in Northern Arizona's longest running poetry open mic.

Now more than six years old, the Sedona Poetry Open Mic has regularly hosted amateur, professional, performance, page, published and closet poets. All poets, spoken word artists, lyricists, songwriters, rappers, MCs, comedians and storytellers are welcome. If your art can be spoken, come and speak.

Nearly 1,100 different poets have spoken on stage since the open mic was founded by its host, veteran slam poet Christopher Fox Graham.

As always, the open mic is round robin: one poem per poet, per round, and we cycle through the poets from start to finish. This means if you show up late, need to leave early or don't have too many poems to read, we can easily work you into the cycle seemlessly.

Java Love Café is located at 2155 W. Hwy. 89A, next to Harkins Theatres, Suite 118, West Sedona. To sign up, be at Java Love around 5ish. For more information, call Graham at (928) 517-1400 or e-mail to foxthepoet@yahoo.com.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

If I won $380 million in a lottery

Normal answers seem tame.

If I won $380 million in a lottery, I'd have two arms surgically grafted to my body, just behind my current ones, and then two arms with fleshy wings like a bat grafted in the middle of my back, so 6 hands into total, which would make chores and travel super efficient.

Counting my legs, I'd have eight limbs, so you could call me the Octopoet.

And if you think that's gross, you'd be wrong. For one, I could shower 6 times as fast, and there's always someone who's into freaks. Add that to being a celebrity with $380 million, and getting a g.

What would you do with $380 million?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Last year's words belong to last year's language

Little Gidding, Part II
By T.S. Eliot
(Written in 1942, during the constant Luftwaffe air raids on London)

Ash on and old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house—
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other—
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember.'
And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.




I am not a fan of T.S. Eliot. I actually think as a poet, he's kind of dick, specifically because of "The Waste Land:" "Let's write a poem you'll need a hundred pages of footnotes to comprehend, because nothing makes language beautiful and elegant like complete obfuscation. In a hundred years, the common man will proudly point to 'The Waste Land,' as proof to say 'see, I told you, poetry sucks.'"

Thanks, T.S., you douche, for ruining poetry promotion for the rest of us.

Although, Eliot's influence on poetry probably indirectly inspired the Beats to make poetry relevant again and also Marc "So What?" Smith to create slam to make it populist.

Poetry should be understandable. As language is meant to convey ideas from author to reader, speaker to listener, thus poetry, being language in its most polished form, should convey ideas in the clearest (William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow") or most elegant (John Milton's "Paradise Lost") or most bluntly straightforward (a slam satire) or most beautiful (Shane Koyczan's "The Crickets Have Arthritis" or Derrick C. Brown's "A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me") or most moving (Andrea Gibson's "Still") means -- depending on the poet, style and voice.

"The Waste Land" is the antithesis of poetry's purpose. It is forcefully convoluted with such obscure allusionary references that only Eliot scholars can sit down and read the thing without a footnoted guidebook to understand it. It also uses Greek, Italian and Sanskrit, none of which have I be fluent in since ... the accident ... and seem to have been added only to show off how wise and worldly, and better than you, Eliot was.

Of course, H.P. Lovecraft (horror author who gave us the ancient evil god Cthulhu), who hated Eliot probably as much I do, wrote a great satire of "The Waste Land," called "Waste Paper: A Poem Of Profound Insignificance," and it's a far more entertaining read. Lovecraft called "The Waste Land," "a practically meaningless collection of phrases, learned allusions, quotations, slang, and scraps in general."

And if you thought Eliot was a dick, you haven't met an Eliot scholar yet.

A Eliot scholar is the guy at the party who'll tell you why the 1998 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde - which he says he's drinking - is vastly superior to the 1999 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage, which you're drinking -- although you just don't care to tell him you just helped the party's host fill those two bottles of expensive-looking wine from the same tap of Almaden box wine and, fuck, you only stopped to talk to this guy so your roommate could make moves on the hot hipster chick this douche-bag brought, and as soon as he gets her number and sets up a date, you're fuckin' out of here and headed to another party where the girl you like is double-fisting a pint of Guinness and a bottle of Jameson, like the kick-ass cool chick you love her for -- fuck, is this guy still talking?

That being said, I actually like some of Eliot's work. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" ("In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo," which referencing is ironic, I know, as this is almost like writing "On this blog, readers come and go / talking of T.S. Eliot, whom we claim to know") and "The Hollow Men" ("We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men ... This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.").

The four-part "Little Gidding" series I vaguely remember reading in college, but yesterday, my mother sent me the highlighted passage as a New Year's Eve quote.

Which is why I love my mother.

(Whose married surname, coincidentally but irrelevantly, is Elliott.)

Shantih shantih shantih