Interview with Niina Pollari

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Niina Pollari

Ariel: So, tell me about Dead Horse.

Niina: Well, the form or the function or some other aspect of it?

Ariel: Surprise me.

Niina: Well, do you know Dead Horse Bay, the place?

Ariel: No.

Niina: Okay, so there is this weird place in Brooklyn called Dead Horse Bay, which is down in South Brooklyn kind of near the Verrazano Bridge. The reason for its name was that it used to be surrounded by glue factories, where the carriage horses would go get processed.

Ariel: Oh, wow.

Niina: Yeah, it is kinda grim. Especially after the automobile took over New York City, the carriage horse thing was no longer lucrative, so they made it a dump. Even better, right? And, so, it went from a glue factory to a dump. But then they were like, oh crap, we shouldn’t have a dump this close to the city. So they capped it and sealed it, and then the cap at some point later burst. So, now when you go to Dead Horse Bay, you find horse bone shards and fifties-era garbage, like weird bottles and shoes and things. And so it’s a very weird experience to go there. Like, you can actually take the bus and disembark and go through some hedges and then you’re on the beach filled with garbage. It smells weird, like chemicals. At low tide you find horseshoe crab corpses and it feels very much like, not a part of New York City. While, definitely very much being a part of New York City.

Ariel: Still goth and somewhat obsessed with death after all these years! [laughter] I love it!

Niina: Yeah, I know. I almost like to talk about it, because once I find a place that talks to me, I kind of think of it as mine. You know?

Ariel: Yeah.

Niina: But of course, thousands of people go there all the time. It’s not a beautiful beach, but if you’re into the decay of cities, it’s a really cool place to visit. And so, and then there’s of course, like the idea of beating a dead horse and how much that kind of sounds like it’s about the body. As you know there’s a lot about the body in the collection, so that title seemed fitting. Plus my editor pointed out that I use a lot of single-syllable, elemental words, and the title is just like that. You know, the thing down to its essence, basically.

Ariel: So, Carl Phillips has said that poetry is more of a transformation of experience, rather than a transcription of it. What do you think about that?

Niina: I think all good literature is a transformation of experience. Poetry can perhaps be more obviously that because people expect poetry to take certain cognitive leaps. It’s not as specifically straightforward as an art form. As the sort of the weird cousin of prose, it doesn’t always make sense. So, in that way it allows you to be very transformative. You can hop from one thing to another, subject matter-wise, a lot faster and with greater ease that you could in prose. With prose you’re almost forced to explain your thought process and connections more. I think readers of poetry allow themselves to make connections more intuitively. In poetry, readers don’t necessarily expect you to do that, so that’s the great part.

At the same time, though, I’ve gotten a lot of comments about being very clear and straightforward in my own poetics, in terms of like what I write. People are always coming up to me and saying “Oh I’m not usually a poetry person, but…” and then they go on to say that they enjoyed it, or got something out of it, or bought my book. I think that is really cool too. But although I try to keep my language clear and essential, I still expect my readers to get weird with me.

Ariel: Speaking of clarity, I wanted to ask you how important accessibility of meaning is to poetry? Put another way, should one have to work hard to solve a poem?

Niina: Of course it’s wonderful if a poem talks to a lot of people. And when I edit, I really want things to be clear. But a poem takes its own life once it’s out in the world. It gathers its own momentum and it doesn’t always do what you meant for it to do. I think if your poem’s meaning is accessible to people, that’s amazing. But if you’re trying to intentionally obscure or hide your meaning, or make yourself seem smarter by being needlessly complicated, I think that’s where poetry really gets a bad rep. I can’t stand overly academic writing, period. That goes for poetry and prose and everything in between. I just think that you should know what you’re saying. Have enough control over your language to guide the reader, but leave some room for them to be surprised.

Ariel: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I can’t stand obtuse poetry. When I took poetry workshops with Susan Mitchell at FAU she had us read a lot of language poets, because that’s what she was into and I just couldn’t stand it. And then there’s what’s published in, say, the New Yorker, which for me is sometimes hit, mostly miss.

Niina: Yeah, language poetry is not necessarily for me either. I need to have something tangible in the world. I need to be grounded in reality, at least part of the way. Even when some of your content is impossible or implausible or surreal, there needs to be something that keeps you oriented or grounded within the framework of the poem. In that book, for me, the tangible thing was often a sense of place.

Ariel: Oh, yeah, I agree and I think Dead Horse does exactly that. I even said in my review there was only one part that I found myself, like unsure of, and the rest I was like, yeah I get this. This is, this is comprehensible and that was great.

Niina: When you’re reading something and you understand the location or the premise or you understand something fundamental about it, it allows you to get at the subtleties of it and that that allows the complicated stuff to sneak up on you. Then you’re not flailing to understand the mechanics of it.

Ariel: Yeah, once you get the, have the general focus, you can start looking at the little pieces and maybe like, play around with them.

Niina: Exactly.

Ariel: Okay, tell me a little bit about Kiss Me in the Boring Rain project as I too am somewhat obsessed with Lana Del Rey.

Niina: Oh yeah. So, I found myself listening to Born To Die and thinking a lot about it and not quite being able to grasp why I liked it so much. Some of the lyrics are kind of basic and it’s not that’s it’s musically that complicated. The album wasn’t even that well produced in some parts. But something about the persona that she adopted – the absolute certainty with which she talks about her devotion to the darkness of love, made it rattle around in my brain. And so, I slowly wrote the poems while listening to particular songs, like on repeat, until I got some lines down. There is something about her that I can’t get over, but that project helped me a lot with my obsession around that album. It helped me put the album away a little bit.

Ariel: I know how you feel. She’s easily one of my most listened to artists in the past five years. When I saw her play live a few months ago I didn’t even care about the lackluster stage show just because I was so caught up in the lyrics music. Anyway. Shift of topic. I know you attend a lot of poetry readings and even host your own, Popsickle. I’m curious how has the Internet informed and contributed to the well-being of poetry in your mind?

Niina: Quite a lot. It makes sense to poets. I think poetry benefits from the immediacy of Internet because it reduces the turnaround time on publishing in journals, or in any form of print really, and I feel that poetry works best when it’s reactive to the zeitgeist. When there’s a faster cycle between writing and publishing it, it’s good for the medium. It’s also easier to reach more people than a print subscription to a journal would. Not that print is not valuable, of course it is, but it’s just like more, it’s got a wider reach and more tentacles, you know.

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Niina at a poetry reading accompanied by violin.

Ariel: Cool. What books in print are you reading right now?

Niina: Right now I’m reading Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, and Green Girl by Kate Zambreno.

Ariel: I’m reading a history of Miami’s segregationist housing policy. It’s academic history, but written in an accessible way and I find the subject fascinating.

Niina: Actually that sounds extremely interesting. I’m working on a little bit of prose which takes place in Florida. So I was just reading about Everglades draining, which is another smart idea Florida had.

Ariel: Yeah, Florida’s land developers haven’t always been bright, but they’ve always known how to sell the idea of a potential that on closer observation is detrimental to everything that made it in the first place. I took a Florida History class at FAU and the professor had said about how it’s this underserved niche in the field.

Niina: I think Florida’s a really interesting state because of it’s heterogeneity in population and it’s proximity to different areas of the Americas and of the world. And because, it’s the place sketchy people go to disappear for many reasons.

Ariel: Yeah.

Niina: There’s also its various environmental issues. There’s just so much to say about it, and it should be taken seriously, but like, Florida’s sort of the crazy bitch of America, right? Everyone’s like, “Oh Florida, there it goes again!”

Ariel: “Florida man does something unusual and awful again.”

Niina: Exactly. I wanted to start a Twitter account for like heroic Florida Man stories that were like “Good job Florida man!”, or something. That stuff happens too it just doesn’t get as much circulation.

Ariel: Yeah. We’re not all dying from eating too many roaches.

Niina: Yeah, we’re not all like throwing an alligator into a Wendy’s.

Ariel: Haha! And of course that happens in my hometown of Jupiter, way to go Florida Man!

Niina: I know! That made me laugh so much when I read it.

Ariel: Yeah, all my friends were sharing that too. Almost as a counterweight to that kind of notion I’ve been reading a lot of works by Florida authors lately. I just finished a collection of short stories by Jennine Capó Crucet about like Cuban life in Hialeah. Then there’s Paul Kwiatkowski, who wrote Every Day Was Overcast. Weird coincidence, but after I interviewed him a couple of months ago, I’ve since found out that I have three mutual friends with him.

Niina: That’s awesome. Karen Russell and Kent Russell both write about Florida too.  And Sarah Gerard is publishing a collection of essays about Florida next year with Harper Perennial.

Ariel: Karen Russell wrote Swamplandia!, right? My eleventh grade students are reading that in their English class right now.

Niina: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love her. Her short story collection is really good.

Ariel: Yeah I want to read Swamplandia! too, but, like, I need to stop buying books for a little bit and finish reading all of what I have, so I don’t.

So now that we’re talking about all these books, I wonder how did your MFA influence your creative process?

Niina: If I could go back in time I would do a lot more research about MFA programs. The program I attended maybe wasn’t the one for me, because it was super narrative, and about as literal as poetry can be. But, the main way it influenced me was getting me to New York and, so you know, hooking me up with an initial community of people who were my first readers and all that stuff. And I still stay in touch with like a couple of the people and they’re critical in my process. So, that part, that part mostly, community I guess.

Ariel: I read this article in Jezebel that touches on some of the subject we’ve been talking about – the internet, reactivity and poetry communities – and was wondering if there was any overlaps with your experience.

Niina:  I attended one of the schools where this particular “inappropriate literary man” taught, and although my personal experiences were different than the ones this article touches upon, I felt that the program’s atmosphere was very male somehow. Maybe it has to do with some old-school notion of the MFA program, but in retrospect it’s especially confusing to me at that school because the program was mostly non-men. That was ten years ago; it does feel like there’s a change in the air now. Voices that might have stayed silent even as recently as then aren’t staying silent anymore, and that’s a good thing.

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Make sure to read my review of Dead Horse and then buy it of course! You can follow Niina’s website by going here. Also, as a special Halloween treat, dear reader, feast your eyes on this collaborative poem that Niina and I wrote when babies for duo-poetry performance: I present to you Degothalizer 2000!

 

Interview with Adam Sheetz

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I’ve been acquainted with South Florida based artist Adam Sheetz for almost a decade now. I met him first at FAU, watching him perform in an anti-war folk duo he lead. After being taken in by the combination of high talent and humility I was further impressed as we spoke on current political issues. Since then I’ve seen his talents contribute to other worthy musical endeavors in numerous local spaces and also seen his graphic art work at a number of venues. While a fan from the beginning, I’ve also noticed that at each new encounter with his work that his artistry has improved – something noticed not just by me but also by those that voted for him and got him the award of New Times Best Visual Artist of 2015.

I met with Adam Sheetz at his house in West Palm Beach. After he showed me around his house filled with unique, carnivalesque art and guitars I chatted with his wife Lindsey for a bit we made our way to his studio. After I looked over the canvases that were in the room and perused some of the books in his library, many of which I also had in mine, we had a shot of whiskey in homage to our shared appreciation of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson then cracked open beers and started talking about a number of things. As the interview was three hours and forty-five minutes, or 38 pages transcribed, it had been edited for readability and concision. Enjoy!

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Ariel: So what are you setting up on the easel right now?

Adam: I thought of a Trump piece last night. I’m going to do Trump now in a big diaper crashing through D.C.

Ariel: One of the things that I’ve noticed in the content of you work is a negation of the dominant tropes and narrative of American society – be they politicians, police or religious figures. A negation of that negation, as it were.

Adam: Well I try and leap for the most exaggerated, most grotesque forms of what is actually out there. I really want to be objective for this show. I don’t really want to be supporting any particular candidate. I just want to put the shit out there. I’m not in the business to make people look pretty, I’m in the business to expose people for what they are. If I can elevate the negative to a level that is so farfetched from what it actually is, but within that there are still tenants of a deeper truth, well than that is exactly the kind of attention that they deserve and need. I’m not saying exaggeration is the only way to arrive at a real truth, if you are just telling it like it is, few people are going to pay attention. If you throw in some tits or a politician jacking off or something, people are more likely to look. I mean, why shouldn’t artists use the same methods of big business advertising and culture. Sex sells.

Ariel: That’s precisely why my second book has so much sex in it.

Adam: There you go.

Ariel: So I really like your Animal Farm series. I’m curious to see what thoughts you have that words and qualities associated with being an animal, apart from being a tiger in bed and or hung like an elephant, are typically negative. Do you think that this type of objectification influences the way that people treat the environment?

Adam: I actually wasn’t even going for it in that sense, but I like the connection.

Ariel: You can use that if you like.

Adam: [Laughs] Yeah, I will. With that piece, you know one thing that I have been struggling with in my art, especially taking as a subject something so explicitly that is thematically socio-political, you know the easy way out would be to do each politician as they are. You know do their portrait in some way, but you know that’s only going to last for 2-4 years before it is irrelevant. But the problems are always the same.

Ariel: That’s a really good formulation.

Adam: So my struggle is you know, how do I attack these people by attacking the problems that they are creating? I’ve found very often that the best way to do that is through animals. There are so many parallels to different personality types in the animal world. Not just that, but the symbolism that animals hold in the Bible. I feel that I do a better service to the issues by not putting the people in there. I think if you put people and faces that are recognisable, it gives them more credit than they deserve. It then makes the piece about them, and I think if you make it about them you ultimately miss the bigger structural issues at hand. It makes my art more universal.

I don’t want to be thought of as a cartoonist. I want my low-brow shit to be infiltrating the high-brow world. I want to just flip it on its ass. I think animals are just the best way to represent people at the end of the day [laughs]. With that series, you know each animal represents a different aspect of society

Ariel: Walk me through it?

Adam: Sure. Rather than an eagle, my take on the national bird is the vultures – that’s why it’s displayed with the flag in the background. It’s the first piece in the series and it’s meant to orient people so they know the theme is America politics. Then there’s the saturated pink and green pig. The green background because money and the pig is the businessman. Then there’s the yellow cowardly sheep, which is basically the general population being shepherded around. Then there is the peacock, which is your glitz and glam reality TV culture. The peacock and the sheep go hand in hand because you get to the point of being a peacock and only concern yourself with exterior appearance and keeping up with the Joneses and the status quo. I think ultimately it evolves you to being rolled in with the sheep.

Ariel: Interesting. I took it to represent bourgeois intellectuals.

PH44art800Adam: The peacock?

Ariel: Yeah.

Adam: That wasn’t my intention. The peacock is the animal representing one of the seven deadly sins, so that was my thought behind it. But I always enjoy hearing what people take away from it, especially if it is not what I intended because now I could have a whole new narrative. Tell me more what you mean.

Ariel: So for me it’s the smile that makes it what I said. Peacocks represent the regal, the rich, but they are not it. To mix bird metaphors here, they parrot the rhetorical positions of “jobs creators”, and get well kept for it, like birds in a menagerie. I don’t know, maybe it’s just something about that smile that makes me think of William Buckley.

Adam: The thing I love about art is when I do a piece, by the time I am done the narrative has changed and I find things that I draw that I wouldn’t call forced symbolism but triggers “that means that” even though at the time it wasn’t what I intended. See

Ariel: Counter to what we have been talking about, I have a question about The Death of Marat. This piece, is there at particular face that was supposed to be on there?a548ee_3773a08a57914005ad0d1ab8eba68102.jpg

Adam: No. There was no particular face. I was reinterpreting the well know piece by David. That is actually one of my favorite pieces of David’s. I wrote one of my finals in college on him, basically paralleling him to Fox News and other major news networks because at the end of the day they only report what they are paid to report. If whoever owns the company, like Murdoch, doesn’t like something they are not going to report on it. David was a patron of whoever was in power at the time. Whatever direction the revolution was going and whoever paid him the most, that was who he painted for. So I kind of equated him to a news network of that time. The French revolutionary epoch is so fascinating. It paved the way for so many things, politically, socially and artistically. I’m glad you asked about that piece.

Ariel: Well, I wanted to bring it up as even though your style has changed since then I see within it, almost all of your work really, the same radical, emancipatory spirit that inspired the art of that period.

Adam: Thank you! I’m getting goosebumps. That is a very kind compliment.

Ariel: Yeah, it’s why I like you work so much – it speaks to my head and to my gut.

Adam: Good! I want my work to cause a visceral reaction like that. I want people to walk out of my show feeling unsettled. I don’t claim to have all the solutions to addressing the social grotesqueries that have become banal and commonplace and thus accepted. I want my art to put a question mark in my audience’s head that encourages them to seek some sort of answer. I don’t expect that my work will change the world, but god damn it if it isn’t my hope.

Ariel: Well, if it’s any consolation I can’t stand most of the art that I consume at galleries or museums and yet yours speaks to me.

Adam: Thank you. I mean yeah, as it is conceived today, I am a shitty contemporary artist because I don’t pay attention to what is happening in the world. I mean it’s the commercialised world in this day and age. For the most part, that or you’re a “crafter”. You know? For as pompous as I sounded saying that, I don’t mean to. I’m probably one of the most humble guys. You know?

Ariel: Yeah, I mean, I’ve known you for a long time and you definitely are.

Ariel: Yeah, I get it. I’ve been trying to get into contemporary writers. I mean, it’s hard. They write about bullshit I don’t care about. I mean you can only read so many “troubled home” stories before it’s like… okay. I get it. You had a shitty home life. Now find something other to talk about that’s bigger than you.

Adam: Exactly! All art is really just regurgitation at this point. A lot of what I have seen in contemporary art basically just tries to match the formula of what sold last year. There are handfuls of artists that are doing something real, though fuck if I know who they are. I know they are out there, they have to be, I’m also not going to wade through a bunch of mire just to fin them. I mean, that’s part of the reason I try not to pay attention to “what’s hot”. I don’t want to be inadvertently influenced by anything like that, for better or worse. If I want to be influenced I go back to my heroes like Goya, Basquiat, Deschamps and of course Stedman and Picasso. And speaking of Picasso, actually, his work has a style I’ve been trying to figure out lately how to do. I’ve been trying to do a 2D painting of 3D, by mixing and matching the planes. I always thought that was such an interesting concept – but I want to take it a step further, like paint something illustrating the detritus of our current socio-political climate. You know, where there’s not just one problem but all these different angles. I think a cubist representation of that would be a very honest.

Ariel: But what would that look like? I mean, the way you describe it makes me think of Balzac’s the Unknown Masterpiece, which ends with a brief description of this painting that’s clearly aligned with the Zeitgeist and yet nearly indescribable as a language has yet to come together to structure it’s meaning.

Adam: Honestly, I have no idea yet. I couldn’t even say what the subject would be at the moment but I’ll get there. I use liberty a lot as my subject. So just thinking off the top of my head I imagine it might relate to her. But if I were to do a cubist piece I think it would be, maybe something along the lines of the three bathers painting. Something like I did with the “Now and Then” series with Liberty, Justice and Nature. I would probably do those three women in a cubist style and try and fit as many planes of conflict as I could in there. That may be my project for next year, though I’m not sure.

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Ariel: I like the concept and am glad you brought up your “Now and Then” series depicting Nature, Justice and Liberty. I thought was great visually, but I’m honestly a bit wary of the politics of nostalgia. Could you speak on your intentions with it, as the implies something that, say, “Ideal and Actual” does not.

Adam: It never existed fully, no, though at the same time you could say that the pre-Colombian people’s here had something closer. I mean, if you look at all of the social injustices from the start of our country, we’ve never been a fully equal society and a fully just society. With the exception of nature, I don’t think there was ever a truly ideal “Then” for any of the subjects that was fully representative of what we all would love them to be.

As far as liberty goes, I’d also say that was significantly more prevalent prior to the kind of techno-surveillance culture we have not. Not for everybody, slavery, obviously, but I feel that liberty has taken a turn for the worse and I guess that was really the turning point between the then and now.

Ariel: So I’m glad to hear that you feel the “Then” never existed, and is just a rhetorical trope as I was going to get on your case about that. After all, it’s a variant of Donald’s “Make America Great Again”.

Adam: [Laughs] Glad you were ready to call me out. I don’t make art for people to tell me it’s good. I expect to be challenged. I’m actually glad you brought that up because you’re absolutely right and I agree with you 100%. But for the sake of the piece it’s the starting point of a narrative. One that starts out as a fairy tale – this utopia that never existed – and we arrive at this gross truth of what it actually is. I think with this view the “then” is exists as hope as something that we can return to, rather something that we can arrive at for the first time.

Ariel: I like that. It evokes the idea of a return to paradise almost, even thought the then is something that we would be arriving at for the first time. Which all makes me think of a desire armed to return there. Considering that Lake Worth is the home of the Earth First  Journal and your works contains a number of radical political themes I was wondering if there has been any sort of exchange between you and them.

Adam: Actually, yes. Earth First has contacted me a few times. Unfortunately we have never really lined up on some of the stuff I have versus what they needed. That’s actually a good reminder for me to reach back out them because now I have a few pieces that might be interesting for them. I love Earth First. I love everything they are doing. Somebody needs to do it.

You know and early on at FAU, like ’07-08, right before I met Cecil and you, I played in an anti-war folk band. I had a percussionist and me on acoustic guitar. I used to play at protests against the Iraq war. I was a member of A.N.S.W.R. Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. I went to Washington DC with them in September when Petraeus was coming out with his new budget report and asking for more money for Iraq. There was big protests going on – not on the news, of course – and we took a van to D.C. We marched to the capital, some friends got arrested. One of the organizers was one of the first men on the ground. His name was Mike and he had a video which went viral. Although there is not much time for it now. I still feel like I am doing my part with painting, because somebody has to.

[We break to have a cigarette outside]

Ariel: Now that I see it in your garage, in front of me, one of the questions I had for you was for you to walk me through The Persistence of Reality. The picture on your website is small, but it is such a huge piece.

Persistance of Reality

Adam: It is so far my best attempt at paying homage to Hieronymus Bosch.  This piece basically maps the terrain a barren kind of cultural landscape. The only thing that looks lush and fertile is the facade. This quest for visibility and 15 minutes of fame – reality TV culture – I think is dragging us through the mud as a culture.

So you have here these people lining up to go down to watch framed in a manner that alludes to Bosch’s work, “The Cure of Folly”. Back in the day people used to think that people who did bad things had something in their brain and called the Folly Stone. Because of this belief they, logicially, originated the practice of lobotomies originated. They would take out a piece of the brain thinking that would cure them of evil, which is why there are medieval tools in the picture. Up here you have the US Capital Building, the Whitehouse and the flames with this big monster. You have the Hollywood spotlights going. Nobody is paying attention. These are two of my favorite figures that I have come up with. You basically notice that the eyeball around it looks a lot like a vagina. The tear duct is like a clit. So I kind of flipped around, stuck an eyeball in there and created this kind of Uncle Sam foyer figures. You know, kind of representative of the NSA.

Adam: The lush fertile area is just a backdrop. The stiletto wearing vultures. It’s the transformation of what was once the sacred feminine, into this profane “women are bitches and whores”. It’s just a fuckfest down here.

Ariel: Considering that we’ve been talking about animal’s relationship to your work, I like the animal masks that you have them wearing.

Adam: You could chalk it up to the laziness of not wanting to paint a bunch of faces.

[laughter]

Ariel: Did you go to school for art? Or are you self-taught?

Adam: A little bit of both. I went to school for studio arts/graphic design but I still haven’t technically graduated FAU. I learned a lot, but basically I kept going to get access to materials. There’s a number of professors there who have helped shape the seriousness with which I do my work. Of all my art training, what I took the most from was my art history classes, more than the practical application and the studio classes. The studio classes were a chance for me to exercise what I had already been doing, but with new tools.

Ariel: So how do you think your art has changed over time?

Adam: One of the things that I struggled with earlier on in my career was arriving at my own style that was separate from my influences. That was the struggle. I think where I am now compared to where I was 10 years ago and it’s a whole different world. To go deeper, there was a point where I had to break down what I was doing and rebuild it. This is no small task, you know, a whole new world had to be built upon the old. I adhere to that concept in a lot of aspects in life. I think that it’s the most productive way to go about anything at the end of the day – something’s not working, you tear it down and build upon it. Now, for me to pick up the pen and the brush and have it be fulfilling, I really have to be saying something. If I’m not saying anything, it’s a waste of my time… unless I’m getting paid [laughs]. I’ve got a little one to feed. I’m not going to be the one to paint a still-life with a bowl of fruit in it.

Ariel: Or like just a nude.

Adam: Right. I mean it’s not saying anything.

Ariel: Right?! I mean love women. I will ogle and appreciate and blah, blah, blah. But when it comes to my taste in art, however, I need to have some kind of more redeeming, edifying element. I want my naked women to be leading the people.

Adam: Exactly, like Lady Liberty Leading the People. That’s one of my favorites. I actually got to see that one in person at the Louvre.

Ariel: Oh. So on the about you section on your website, you say that you frame your work as portraits of beauty by means of crude exaggeration. Do you think that the anti-septic nature of current socio-political discourse is detrimental.

Adam: Yeah, everything today has got to be so prim and proper and clean and the choice of what people emphasize as being important is just so askew. A lot of times nobody can tell it like it is because so many people have become over-sensitive cry-babies. I mean we live in a culture where you get a trophy just for fucking showing up. That’s what it’s become.

I don’t know when it happened, but I think my generation was when that shift happened. I’m 27 and I can remember my senior class was the first class ever at Cardinal Newman where no one that graduated received senior superlatives in the yearbooks. Too many mothers complained that their son or daughter wasn’t picked for something, so they stopped doing it. I don’t know why this generation has stopped knowing what it was to earn something. I also went to a private Catholic school so a lot of the children were privileged too.

Ariel: I knew a few girls there from when I was in high school, so I know what you mean.

Adam: Haha, yeah… So I was the bottom bracket of the kids at that school. Which I enjoyed because you know, I could be my own person. But I think that the societal discourse of giving trophies just for showing up-

Ariel: We are going to talk about some adult things, “trigger warning”.

Adam: Yeah, and I don’t see how sugar-coating everything and being so politically correct that there is not an ounce of truth in what you are saying, none of that s anything that can help bring us forward. Nobody wants to hear the truth, nobody wants to hear the bad stuff. I’m not saying that foul language etc should be a part… that’s not what we are talking about. Being PC all the time doesn’t get us anywhere though. You can’t have a positive and a positive and expect a reaction at the end of the day. If you break it down to physics.

Ariel: Well I mean, I think at least from the developmental sense. Everybody fails at some point.

Adam: You have to fail and you need to learn how to deal with it. It’s a given that I want the best for my son, that I want him to succeed. But I don’t want him to succeed without failing first on his own. I don’t want him to be destitute, living in a gutter. Failure is a part of life, it is how you grow. Sometimes you run into those walls in your life where you just have to make a decision and hope it pans out. Hopefully you come out smelling like a rose. It’s a practice of to keeping your wits about you, you know?

Relating this to my art, I think about when I stopped drawing with a pencil and started drawing with a pen. I was forced not to throw the piece away, and make something out of the mistake. That’s been something that I live my life by. I think everybody is expecting to go through life with their own personal filter when what they really need is to grow a thicker skin. Nothing is the end of the world.

Ariel: Except global climactic change.

Adam: This is true [laughs]. But even that, I think the anti-septic nature with which that political message is delivered may be doing a social disservice. Treat the public like they can handle how many billions invested in housing and infrastructure will be lost due to catastrophe and maybe something more substantive can be done about it. Instead of the honesty we have fucking Rick Scott preventing state workers from even using the phrase “climate change”. What a sad joke! It’s reasons like that which is why you can’t have an honest debate. It’s just arguing feelings.

Ariel: Yeah, totally! Like I was saying outside, I’m increasingly tired of trying to have real discussions with people online. I don’t talk about things I don’t know about but nobody else seems to think that this matters. They want what that guy [I point to the illustrations of Donald Trump] gives them, they want feelings rather than a complex, nuanced historically based perspective.

Adam: Or they want a sound board where they can bounce their shit off and hear themselves talk, or hear it regurgitated back to them in an agreeable manner. It’s all bullshit and just adds to the veil that is clouding our perception of what reality is. Not everybody is going to get along. That’s just a fucking fact. Find out your differences. Agree to disagree and if it don’t really matter then move the fuck on. Don’t get so butt-hurt if shit doesn’t go your way. If shit doesn’t go your way, maybe you should figure out a way to make it so that shit does go your way. Not in a negative sense though.

Ariel: You frame it in a way that I am wholly in accord with. One some of these important issues lets relate to each other on the actions that need be taken together as a community and through that we’ll heal some of our own issues.

Adam: Exactly.

Ariel: I love how you are all about doing something creatively, that I do as well in my writing, which is openly assimilating forms and styles from other places. A couple of other artists I know are so caught up in trying to be completely original that I think it hinders their ability to compose something great.

Adam: You can’t be original now. We’re just reshaping the past in a way so that the present can understand it. If I was so focused on creating something new, I would be wasting so much energy that I would end up with nothing. What I am creating is original enough, but it’s also an amalgamation of many things past – as all art is. History isn’t some thing, it’s what is happening now. And there are always smart, talented people who have said and done better than we can currently dream of creating.

Ariel: Heroes.

Adam: Exactly, and my heroes have always been those people who said it better. So I think by thinking that you can do it better in your own way is awfully arrogant.

Ariel: And neurotic.

Adam: Yeah. That’s the thing as well, seeking that kind of false comforting thought means that there is no drive to better oneself. Why try any harder in a format that other people have already mastered? Because there is the easy way and the hard way and it’s only in the latter time you really learn who you are.

If I can be vulnerable right now, that is one of the reasons I try to be so serious about the outside things that I tap into for my work. Whether that is historical subjects or different artists. I research because I enjoy and love learning and research. I write different notes and ideas down. I have a little pad that I sketch the ideas and inspirations for my bigger pieces. It’s a juvenile approach.

Kind of like throwing a bunch of shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. It often starts when I am trying to fall asleep. In order to do that I try to use ideating sleep rituals, it helps create a pattern of creative thought. Hopefully I remember it when I wake up. Some I do, some I don’t. I feel like the ones I don’t remember weren’t meant to be created. And anyway I don’t have the time to do every idea. The ones I do remember end up being fairly successful and what I want them to be. So I basically start with a general idea that begins with me trying to fall asleep and then when Thursday-Friday comes around I get the opportunity to put pen to paper. For pieces there is a lot of research involved whether it is researching history or artists or different composition styles, or researching different design clips that I can use. More often than not it is body parts or mechanical things. I’ll print them out and see what kinds of shapes I can make and how it can work. Sometimes I scrap it, but a lot of times I’ll just lay the stuff out, stick it on the paper and force it to dictate the piece to me, based on what sticks out to me at the time. It’s a push and pull. A lot of times, what I find out during the process will tell me something different to what I started with and I’ll end up meeting in the middle. Then all of the vibrancy, perversity, saturation – everything in my work – has to speak to something. Nothing is arbitrary. If it’s a line somewhere, it’s for a reason.

The way I see it’s like, good art is a psychic weapon that attacks things. This is my spell casting book.

Ariel: Then you must be like Hermoine, I see that you’re constantly making new works and it’s all so great. You are much more disciplined than I am as well. It looks great though.

Adam: I try to maintain discipline. Gonzo style. With everything around the house, being a new dad, I put in at least 10-15 hours a week on my own work. It’s a habit. Heh. The things around the house I need to write down, keep a schedule for work. Not for my own stuff though, I don’t want it to feel like work but second nature. It took discipline to get to this point, but I knew if it didn’t I wouldn’t get to this point. If I have a goal, I will work non-stop. If I don’t have some big project at the end of the line, it’s harder. So thankfully, I’ve got this show coming up. It will definitely be something they have never seen before.

Did I tell you one of my marketing tactics I’m going to do is campaign signs and the name of the show is going to be called “Nobody is safe” and it’s going to be put all throughout Cleveland. Super bright posters. Red, white and blue. It’s where we are right now.

Ariel: After this series, do you have anything you were thinking about next.

Adam: I was thinking of doing a show out west in California next summer. The Dead Kennedy’s are a huge influence on me and what I say and do in my work. They are the first band that I feel has the same velocity and crassness but still poignant at the same time. I feel like it is what a want to achieve with my work. A juvenile yet sensitive rejection of authority.

So my idea of a follow up show would be doing a series on Dead Kennedy’s and hopefully getting Jello, if not the whole band involved somehow.

Ariel: Who knows, maybe he’ll end up reading this and be as taken in with your art as I have been so he’ll reach out to you.

*

If you’re in the area, make sure to check out Adam’s upcoming showing, information below.

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Also visit his website to purchase prints and follow him on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with what he’s working on!

Review of A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida

When it comes to understanding the physical formation of greater Miami A World More Concrete by N. D. B. Connolly was incredibly insightful. The Magic City, so called because of its transformation from frontier town to urban region was by far the fastest of its time. Marketers of the Magic City sought to advertise it, justifiably so, as a Caribbean city for elites to leisure upon. However at variance from the other islands within the temperate climate band – such as Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba – it didn’t have the preponderance of poor blacks that this class found unsettling. Not that they weren’t present, just that they were visible only as help. White terrorism, apartheid passes and Jim Crow police enforcement kept blacks from coming onto the beaches so favored by economic elites. Contestation of such treatment was limited by this as well as conflict between Caribbean and American-born blacks while cultural expressions of resistance to this – as well as the colonial and slave history, such as the Junkanoo parades in the area that would come to be known as Overtown – were geographically distanced far from major tourist areas.

Connolly examines the economics of segregation and the various forms of legal frameworks used to perpetuate racial segregation. Constitutional language – specifically property rights – was the primary means of perpetuating and expanding Jim Crow and New South government policies. While real estate was also a means of creating a Civil Rights political discourse, for taxpayers ought to have the same access to goods (like beaches) and services (like schools), it was not an inherently progressive framework.
Describing in fascinating detail the rhetorical tropes used to perpetuate Jim Crow, Connolly rejects the simplistic narrative that pits the black struggle for civil rights against a white defense of property rights. He limns why and the manner in which class caused propertied and property managing African Americans to embrace the logic and laws of real estate for their own ends. Connolly’s interpretation specifies the creation of class alliances between ruthless white exploitation and the black middle-class. To varying degrees, entrepreneurs, landlords, elected officials, and self-styled urban reformers all participated in eminent domain and land control schemes through mechanisms such as housing associations that helped to take advantage of the black poor. To what extent were poor blacks ruthlessly exploited? As an investment, from the 1930s to the early 1960s, black housing was the most profitable real estate investment that one could make. While rental housing for white Americans would fetch an average rate of return around 6%, for blacks it was an astonishing 27%! Blacks would often pay per week what whites paid per month for rent and it would be significantly lacking the amenities and quality of construction of the types of homes that whites lived in.

Landlords preyed on the fact that blacks had limited capital available to defend their cases in a court system that had not yet taken much account of renters rights, that tenant organizing could be meet with counter-resistance from better financed, organized and politically connected landlords, that a politics of respectability and conference decision making with community leaders determined policy rather than recourse to democratic procedures and that all class conflict would be framed as racial and thus would perpetuate racial sentiments. Landlords as a category was not limited to native-born whites. Blacks, Cubans, Seminoles, Haitians, and other Caribbean groups all invested in segregation to the point at which home ownership within communities vacillated from 10% to 20%. Whites were clearly the predominant holders of capital investment in real estate, while “credit’s to their race” that engaged in similar investments like M. Athalie Range and Luther Brooks gave a gloss of legitimacy to it.

Historiography on urban racial segregation must be embedded within the larger framework of the history of capitalism. Connolly’s close analysis of primary sources allows the reader to expand their understanding of the close and mutually constitutive relationships among liberalism, capitalism, and racism by placing real estate at the center of all. Conflicts over the value of land shaped Miami, indeed all American cities, in ways that social movements, local policy reforms, and legal arguments could not undo. There is almost a perverse creativity to the opportunistic alliances and deceptive actions that informed the geospatial and georacial composition of modern Miami. Eminent domain could be used to dispossess poor blacks of real estate at a lower than market price desired by whites, to force the government to purchase real estate for a higher than market price for housing no longer seen as a desirable investment and to condemn housing that was seen by white homeowners as existing too close to their neighborhoods.

Connolly’s focus on the enduring power of the racist social order and property rights at the heart of Jim Crow sheds new light on the limits a civil rights movement could have when predicated on property-rights. Unfulfilled economic promises and public-private chicanery was not the outliers but the norm. Capitalism and the profit motive thus not only underwrote urban governance and preserved Jim Crow, but also put real estate at the center of Miami’s race relations. The neighborhood case studies of Overtown, Liberty City, Good Bread Alley, Allapatah, Nazarene, Liberty Square, Railroad Shop, and Para Village show how local entrepreneurs were able to exploit the racism underlying the practices of the Federal Housing Authority, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Federal National Mortgage Association for self-enrichment.

Unpacking Happy's Chapter

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved gangsta movies. I’d set up fake Colombia House accounts in order to get free VHS tapes of films like Menace II Society, Boyz ‘n the Hood, New Jack City, Juice, Paid In Full, and Deep Cover and watch them over and over again.
Whereas Jesse’s chapter is stylized after Spanish picaresque and German Bildungsroman literature, Happy’s is based on these films as well as a number of original documents and documentaries. 1, 2, 3

Rather than merely replicate these narratives, however, I wanted to inverse a number of the tropes that are found in these gangster films/reality to depict a gang that is crypto-socialist, truly consensual work relations rather than that which is strictly primitive-capitalist and based on force.
Now presuming that you’re familiar with the above listed movies, so I don’t have to cite each, here are some of those narrative tropes that I mentioned/inverted.
1. The leader of a group got due to his ruthless violence or a chance encounter with a plug rather than his intellect.
2. The leader of the group stays in power based upon loyalty out of fear and not of love (unless relations are also familial).
3. The capture of power foreshadows similar machinations on the part of someone else within the organization that similarly wants to take over.
4. Wealth created from the criminal venture predominantly accumulates in the hands of those at the top.
5. This wealth created goes primarily towards the administrator’s consumption, which leads to organizational degeneration in some fashion.
6. Money spent is primarily upon luxury goods that are flaunted.
7. This leads to general envy/viewing the criminal enterprise as the best provider for income and entices those willing to do whatever to get it, but this makes community relations poor.
Making an analogy to larger institutions of political economy, as I would like my readers to so, I can say in short hand that the typically depicted criminal association is more akin to an absolute monarchy.
This passage shows Happy’s organization is significantly different and touches upon a number of the problems that will be delved into later in the chapter. Specifically what is the Project; the impact that the investigation into Officer Daniels illegal dealings; who the other person is that Happy is getting information from in the police department; their relationship to the Zoe Pounds; the possibility that some conflict might transpire should a power vacuum be created from several Zoe Pounds members finding themselves arraigned; who are these important people in Atlanta that requires Happy to have to meet them in person, etc.
I’ve still got a lot to write about for this chapter to near completion – but I hope this explanation of a portion of my project and the small section of the chapter convinces you that my serial novel project is worth getting into and you buy Book 1 of Unraveling!

In Memory of Matt Mahady

Matt MahadyA good friend of mine, Matt Mahady (1972-2016), recently died of a heart attack in Hodinin, Czech Republic. Upon hearing the news I was immediately shocked. I found it hard to find succor talking to anyone that didn’t know him and over the next three days I intermittently broke down crying.

I first met Matt when I was 16. I’d driven from Jupiter with my then girlfriend Niina Pollari at a poetry slam in downtown West Palm Beach held at the Underground Coffeehouse. Though we were younger by some eight to ten years, Niina and I were welcomed warmly and all quickly became friends with a number of the talented performers as well as competitors on the poetry slam circuit. After Underground closed down, we’d meet in Delray where the estimable Marya now hosted the event.

The teenager years are a formative and heady time for everyone. It’s when we start to assert ourselves, to push our boundaries to find out what is acceptable, what causes aches, what brings us satisfaction. It’s when we start developing our taste for culture. Long an avid reader, my early development oriented towards les Belles-lettres. Before, after and in between performance poetry rounds, we’d discuss literature, artistic performance and politics. The youngest male in the group, Matt and Andrew seemed to take me under their wings. Andrew encouraged me to broaden my teenage radicalism, then under the influence of Crimethinc, and would even later be my professor in a Riots to Revolutions sociology class at FAU. Matt praised me for my taste for classic literature and introduced me to the Beats and their ilk. After a long yet thrilling discourse on the themes, motifs and values of them I asked him who was the person of this group that I should read. Bukowski, he said. Over a several month period after he’d suggested I read The Last Night of the Earth Poems I devoured all of the works that were available at the Books-A-Million I worked at as well as a few from the nearby Barnes and Nobles. My appreciation for Bukowski has since grown more complicated than the fawning amazement that I felt when reading his work at that age and it was made all the more so being able to talk to such a clearly talented singer, musician and poet while chain-smoking cigarettes on the couches outside DaDa.

Over the years we became closer friends. After I moved back from Orlando from an academically disappointing freshman year of college at UCF, we would hang out for drinks at places in Lake Worth that didn’t card, kick it at Boca Raton open mics, meet up for protests outside Burger Kings across the tri-county area to help the C.I.W. workers gain more attention for their protests in aims to achieving a living wage. Into my last year of college I started to find the allure of slam poetry less pulling. I became more cynical about the competitive nature of the event and found that the restrictions I’d once found no issue with more problematic. I’d once read and believed a certain quote by Shelley, the person after which I was named, which said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Attune to the turns of history and armed with greater perspective I simply didn’t feel that way anymore. It didn’t stop me from writing or taking long treks to see my idols such as Saul Williams and Taylor Mali, but I lost the passion for it that Matt exuded.

Once I moved to Fort Lauderdale for work Matt and I, let alone the rest of the Slamily, didn’t see each other as much. We would still made the effort to meet up for New Years or other occasional get togethers though. Be at Havana Hideout or some other local dive, I still loved to see him sing, play music and talk over intoxicants. As I still felt passionately committed about politics, I even invited the C.I.W. that Matt had introduced me to to speak there.

Matt always had his demons that would sometimes lead him to a poor state, but once he was talking about his passions – literature and politics – he would light up. That light, however, left him after his son Sage killed himself. I visited him a few times after this and found trying to bring him up from this wreckage impossible. Not only is consoling someone for such a loss a Herculean task, at that time I was going through what was at the time the most traumatic experience of my life – the separation of my fiancé and I. So low myself, I certainly didn’t have the fortitude to preach hope and promise a closure that may never come. One night though I remember that we emptied a twelver at the Lake Worth Gold Course than continued to walk and talk about women, art and everything else until the sun came up on Bryant Park. We stumbled to his home and crashed. Even though I’d heard some news from him that night that hurt me a little, I felt a little less alone and a little better. Matt never told me if he did as well, but I’d like to think that he did. I left for NYU shortly after this and he left for a brief period out West before then going to Czech Republic.

Matt and I exchanged emails from time to time, but I’m notoriously bad at keeping up friendships when someone isn’t within distance of a two hours drive. He’d ask me if I was still dealing poorly after my breakup. I’d lie and said I wasn’t. I’d ask him how Czech was, and he’d start paeans to it. Knowing my wanderlust and love of Prague, he encouraged me to come out and move to Czech. I’d tell him I’d think about it, which was true, but I never did anything. Shortly before I graduated he’d asked me to review a funding proposal for a NGO in the Czech Republic that helped Roma-people. Given his previous work with the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth, this was so Matt. I was ecstatic. Him asking for my thoughts on such a matter made me feel as if I’d achieved something, like I’d finally come of age. It so lifted me that I later sent him the first draft of my novel. Had he praised it it would have been enough, but that he was working on something similar made me feel even better.

The last time that I met Matt was shortly after my divorce had been finalized. He’d come back to the States due to issues with his Czech Visa and we made plans to go to one of our old haunts, Havana Hideout, to catch up over some beers. The time before I’d seen him in person he’d been in one of his down states. Now, well, this was a different person. He’d put on some weight, but considering how he looked when last I saw him this was a good thing.  As he narrated the drama of being placed in custody and dealing with immigration agents he spoke with greater peace and equanimity about such a stressful and unnerving experience than I had ever seen him before. He even cracked jokes about he had formed a bond with one of the guards there by using the Czech word for comrade. He spoke at length of adoring love for his current partner and recanted his once rakish attitude towards women from when he’d worshipped at the altar of Bukowski. I felt almost as if i didn’t know who I was sitting next to but nevertheless I was happy as he looked so genuinely happy. I asked him the cause for this and he told me that recently had found Jesus. Not the Jesus of the conservatives, he was quick to say, but the Jesus of Liberation Theology. Matt always had a special place in his heart for Latin America, so that he’d made such a turn towards a perspective akin to Óscar Romero I wasn’t that surprised.

Knowing that I’d just come from two years of Marxian studies at NYU, he seemed to pause to see if I would pounce on him for such a position. When I didn’t he seemed relieved. I didn’t say so out of deference to a formative influence or just to be convivial, but as the issues I’d been dealing with around my divorce made me feel less militant, more fragile, more open to the perspective that people don’t always know what is best for them and that there are certain anxieties and humans needs that radical politics can’t always adequately address. We both found affinity on the idea that that which leads to love, real transformative love, is worth valuing and holding on to. I shared in detail my own pains, which I’d kept largely to myself out of fear of being ridiculed and he reflected back nothing but compassion and understanding. This openness led him to share with me how for years he had blamed himself for his son’s death and how this feeling of responsibility had weighted on him – and I’m quoting him as I remember it vividly – like an albatross that didn’t just weight him down but took him places he didn’t really want to go. He said his perspective was once such that if he wasn’t feeling the pain of Sage’s loss than he was somehow dishonoring his memory and not being true to how a father’s love show be. Now, however, he realized how ridiculous this was. Now, he said, he was able to forgive himself for those behaviors that he’d once hypnotized himself into believing had caused such an inscrutable act.

Over the six hours we spent that day chatting it up I feel that almost half of it was on love. Love for our partners. Love for people. And perhaps most importantly, as it is the foundations of all other, love for oneself. I left him back where he was staying feeling lifted not only for having such a great discourse, but also for seeing someone I care about that had long had demons raging inside him look as if they were all exorcised. His aura gave off blue tinge in my rearview window as I drove off.

There’s so much more I’d like to say, so much more that he deserves to be said in his memory, but right now I’m still reeling from his sudden death. In closing I’ll just state that I’m sharing below a small number of his poems as I feel it would be a shame to lose them to posterity only in the form of a few pieces of folded and stapled together chapbook parchment in his family and friend’s bookshelves. Plus, I believe, that giving them out would appeal to his pinko sympathies. I hope that even lacking his unique voice and delivery someone else can see a small spark of his tremendous energy and talent in them. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Love Poem to a Feminist

Not
An ode to privledged white women
Toting books by bell hooks
Alongside the mirrors and cellphones
In their pocketbooks
Not
An ode to Victorian-era prudes
Tired as Qualudes
Wearing their superior attitudes
Like nun’s habits and collars of starch
Demanding Vegan food on the farmworker march
Love poem to a feminist
Who did not concern herself
With chastising guys
Who use the word guy
Collectively
She never sat at a poetry slam
With a politically correct barometer
Ready stick her dogmatic thermometer
Up the ass of anyone who failed to pass
Her litmus test of acceptable art
Oh,
And she wasn’t no gringo
All bent out of shape
By mi vatos’ street lingo
No
She lived a life of quiet valor
In the bantustans of Palestine
Her hands were dirty
But her heart was clean
A flower in the wasteland
A butterfly in the latrine
Rising like the dawn
A smoulering Phoenix
Spreading wings of kerosene
From the corner of Florence and Normandy
To the refugee camps of Jenin
In the winter of our content
The trough of our desire
In the valley of our despair
In the line of fire
Wafa Ali Idris
Age 25
Had been active as an ambulance volunteer
In the first Intefada
No Feng Shui
No Birkenstocks
She nursed children who through rocks
At tanks and armoured ranks
She dressed wounds under bandages
Covering the empty sockets
Of young boys eyes
Cradled the raw, rank hamburger shanks
Of their shrapnel flayed thighs
Cries and whispers
Whimpers and cries
High pitched screams
Forever dancing in her dreams
Like a settler on the warpath
Bloodthirsty for a bloodbath
Until
One day
She decides
To put the keening to rest
Kneels before God
Straps a bomb to her chest
Jaffa Road marketplace
Jerusalem West
101 hornets stung in their own hornets nest
May she rest in peace
Eternally blessed
In the breast of Jah Almighty
Mighty as Aphrodyte
Wafa
I wrote this poem for you
And Wafa
Your mother is proud of you
Outside your door
It is written
In green paint
That drips fresh
As your martyred blood:
Any people whose women fight
Will be victorious.

No Man is a Villain in His Own Heart

No man is a villain in his own heart…
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Napoleon Bonaparte
No man is a villain in his own heart
Not the slave auctioneer tugging on his ear tearing families apart
Not the child molester in blue polyester stalking the toy aisles of your local K-Mart
No man is a villain in his own heart
Idi Amin wiping his plate clean with an ala carte order of severed genitalia
Washing it down with a shot of Gevalia lie-cure
He thought he was pure
As the virgin Madonna
Feeling his ginsana
As his teeth ripped human flesh like an Amazonian piranha
No man is a villain in his own mind
No blue-eyed devil
Who just got his shoes shined
Will recognize that his immortal soul kind
Of resembles the dried-up twist of lemon rind
He left behind
In a cocktail napkin lined with creases
An unsigned thesis of dread
Whose impossible Braille won’t even be read
By the living dead legions of overfed marionettes
Who rise from nether regions of nightmare and cold sweats
Shellshocked as ‘Nam vets
They lurch and wind
Trying to pass themselves off as humankind
Perpetually blind to the idolatry that has defined
The world that’s been designed
By and for them
Million dollar half-a-men
Making massacres like Tienanmen
No man is a villain in his own bones
The Israeli soldier who listens to the tones
Of techno music through his Sony headphones
As his semi-automatic sput-sput-sputters and groans
As he shoots upon children for throwing stones
At the Ariel Capone’s of occupation
No nation is a villain in its own black soul
Even if that nation’s C.I.A. payroll
Includes thugs that fuck nuns up their bleeding assholes
And hang pregnant women from telephone poles
And blast holes in the terrain
Of every Tarzan and Jane
Who refuse to clear the lane
For the Amtrak train
Of empire

No nation is a villain in its own eyes
Regardless of whether they trouble the skies
Of dirt farmers with B-52 bombers
And churn out Jeffrey Dammer ghouls
From torture schools
Like the S.O.A.
In Ft. Benning, G-A
Where grads learn to burn gonads
And strip fingernail pads
Out among the hush of lush, tall Georgia pine

No man is a villain in his own spine
A bitter grudge against my lover
That burns us both like strychnine
Benign neglect, cause and effect
She lies withering on the vine
She’s given her heart
But I won’t give her mine
She lies weeping on my bed; A.M., 2:09
As I fill up this page
Word by word, line by line
Then reach to refill my empty glass of red wine
No man is a villain in his own spine

There’s a Fascist at the Table

There’s a fascist at the table
Down at my local pub
Gunpowder grey irises
Nose like a .38 snub
No hair on his bullet head
Steel toes in his shoe
He’s a friendly enough fellow
If your skin is the proper hue
There’s a fascist at the table
That aint nothing new
Eating pickled hermelin
Slugging down his brew
Getting all nostalgic
For 1932
When they roamed the streets like wild beasts
The golden dawn of their ancient Greece
There’s a fascist at the table
When the skinheads come to town
Say what you want about the old days here
But THIS would have NEVER been tolerated
Government wringing their hands as to what the right approach is
There is only one way to deal with fucking cock-a-roaches
The police should have cracked open their heads in the streets of České Budějovice
And painted red the cobblestones of its every charming, quaint ulice
To let them know: Ne vice!
Send them to the nemocnice
with punctures in their plice
or back to they vesnice
In pine wood krabice nebo boxes
Because these vermin are led by wolves and foxes
Who will eat us alive
If we allow them to thrive
There’s a fascist at the table
When the brownshirts of Ostrava march
Some fat old oligarch
Planning programs of pogrom
Stirring hate up like napalm
Like Americans in Vietnam
On-line at genocide.com
Trafficking in fear
A fearsome puppeteer
Manipulating marionettes to murder
And you should have heard her
anguished wail
When none of those Nazi’s
went to jail
That put her teen boy into a coma
He was guilty of being Roma
Simple as that
You know,
Sometimes they even put you in an oven for that
There’s a fascist at the table
Of the Board of Directors meeting
There’s a fascist at the table
Reserved for Parliamentary seating
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are carving up the spoils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are stealing native soils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they kill to drill for ore
There’s a fascist at the table
Every time there is a war
There’s a fascist at the table
But he’s been here before
Last time he left on a stretcher
I’m surprised he came back for more
There’s a fascist at the table
Chesko,
Slovensko,
Lasko,
Pozor

Song with Andrew Procyk

(Fugitive/Militant) in a foreign land
Rusty old (kalashnikov/machete gleamin’) in my hand
it doesn’t really matter if you understand
your hourglass has run
out of sand
You strike the coal till you make it hard
hoeing rows of cane on the boulevard
honing hatred sharp as a diamond shard
make the government call out the national guard
(Chorus)

This one was born in zion
all my fountains are in you
this one was born in zion
ain’t no ape inside your zoo
Deliver us from the minions of debauched inequity
from the bloody rack and pinions of hit and run hypocrisy
beneath the cruel steamrollers of asphalt bureaucracy
that pave over the butcher shops where they commit democracy
(Chorus)

On the Nod

A six-foot tall beetle
With a darkly iridescent carapace
And chili pepper eyes
Scythe arms snipping at the air like half-scissors
Disconnected
As the scene that came before it
The scene that now returns
A sugar cane field burning on a moonless night
Flames reflected off the flat black face
Of a pond standing still
At the foot of a kudzu covered hill
Two hours ago I crushed up a little round pill
Whisper softly now whisper softly now
God lives underwater
Where the rocks are smooth
And anemones groove
To the oldest music of all
As my eyes open to abstractions
As I understand new
Words
Worlds
As my at-least-for-now lady ages gracefully
As we attempt to de-fang the venom between us
Before our watery love turns wooden
But love forsakes us all
We’re better off studying horseplayer odds
Than we are trying to figure the algebra’s of feminine deception
Let X = a red dress that hangs in some forgotten closet
While we drink green beer in bleak neighborhood bars
Claiming to have learned something from the experience
Claiming to have learned ourselves a lesson
As if there is meaning in the dandelion copulations we attempt
As the wind blows us onward
As if there is meaning in the ticking of the clock
Meaning is a senseless koan
We are born we live we die along
Meantime
Lovers lose lovers in the whirlpool swirl
They sleep they dream and the fog disperses
Into the vaginal void of dawn who spreads her legs
Until sunshine emanates from her starry womb
I’m on the nod
Like a narcoleptic
Trembling with epileptic seizures of holy spirit
The truth will make you sick
In sickness there is wisdom
On the nod
Like Chapiquidick bridge
Brainwaves droning like a didge
In an aboriginal forest
A bird of paradise beating like a heart in my chest
Pinballs bounce the bone white walls of my skullcap
My brain is a train following a treasure map
Mirrorball shattering
In the lair of neon tarantulas
Who scuttle in
Grinding teeth
That shine platinum
In the black light
I’m rubbing my eyes
My balls itch
When my eyelids close
Chinese kites
Sacred rites
Arctic dragons breathing ice instead of fire
Lions on the veldt
Escher print wallpaper
On the inside of a ginger bread house
With silver ovens fired up
Hotter than the McVeigh death chamber
Melting oil-on-canvas representations of
Streetcorners half-painted
With cytoplasmic splatters
Pollockesque
In their density
Immensity
Intensity
“Everybody’s looking for something”
Hunters killers prostitutes priests
Bent lonely men casting nets off the pier
Palsied and sere
Septuagenarians shaking bony fingers at phantoms
As the roominghouse walls close in
Enfeebled toothless pigeon feeders
Roaming the park after dark
Sipping malt liquor beers
Flophouse King Lear’s
Drowning in tragedy
Delivering Slurpee cup soliloquies
In the parking lot of the local 7-11
As the sun sets its flaming eye
In some pocket of the sky
Where hypodermic fingertips
Lash the mainline
To heaven.

Africa

Africa
My father and my mother
Africa
I miss you like a lover
Like a best friend who died
Africa
I carry your soil inside the treads of my old blue sneakers
Pantsula for life
Still blasts out the speakers
Of my old hi-fi
Making me wonder why
I ever left the Icarus height
Of that lush mountain crest
Where we took our rest
After scaling sheer rockfaces
Traversing musk soaked places
Where baboons nest
In the breast of Azania
Africa
The anarchy and mayhem of your chaotic frontier
Rushes my ear
Like a rampaging river in flood
(Roasted miele baskets floating atop a human sea)
Africa
The bean counters of the West
Are overcome with detest
Seems your wars of liberation from colonization
Caused a currency fluctuation
That ruined their vacation
Ox-driven carts slow the path to Pretoria
Elephants block traffic in the middle of the road
Your hyenas remind them of their wives back home
The corporate engine won’t start
The cogs too black, too strong, too proud, too smart
Your bushveld too wild for Wal-Mart
Africa
The night we spent north of Louis Tricart
Sitting in a makeshift shebeen
At the edge of a clapboard encampment
Under stars, beside fire
Trading tribal scars for Irish bullshit
Toasting Nelson Mandela with milk carton beers
Africa
Pondering the vastness of your sheltering sky
Watching crocodiles congress over buffalo pie
Africa
Mud huts where tan skins are left out to dry
Cloud the crowded peripheries of my mind’s eye
As sunflower fields whistle by
Like the ululating cry
Of the Coptic Christain guy
Who flagged us down
With the ecstatic panic
Of a rescued castaway
On a military road so remote
It still bore the tank tracks that created it
Except where the root marks of marula fruit trees
Had obliterated it
Africa
How far did he get down that cruel clay road
With the gas we let him siphon?
Does his sweat still bead grainy patinas of pomegrante sweat
Across the blue-black skin of his forehead?
Does the gleaming silver star of his faith still dangle
From its teardrop green lapel
Adorning his breast
Like a medallion of war?
Africa
I wonder
Is your moon swole full tonight?
Africa
You infected me
Like a malarial mosquito bite
When you cradled me in the mystic twilight
Of your ancestors
The freedom songs of your protestors
Steel me for the fight
As I write what I like like Biko
Aint gonna turn the other cheek no
When we march through these streets like Soweto…uh!
Africa
Things have not been right
Since I left Jo-burg airport
On the ill-fated flight
Back to American stagnation
With the taste of the Southern Cross
Mixed with peri-peri sauce
Still lingering
In the mouth
Of my soul.

There is no word

Once you told me this:
“There is no word
For romantic love
In my language.”
It’s been about six years since you left me
On a prayer rug in a fallout shelter
Somewhere East of East Orange, New Jersey
Where greasy-fingered Ginsburg grandmas
Tug their kerchiefs against the cold
Trudging down stairways of gun metal gray
In the shadow of burned out factories
I can still remember your atomic eyes
The air raid sirens and the flaking swelter
Of flesh singed to the bone
To the bone
To the bone
There is a part of you I have always known
And will carry with me wherever
“I am stretched on your grave
And will lie there forever
If your hands were in mine
I am sure we’d not sever”
Anyway, whatever
I get carried away
What can I say?
You know life goes on
Passion and turblulence,
Struggle and solitude,
Love and art
New poems,
New vices
And a new shiv in my heart
I aint trying to pull your fire alarm again
I know our time has passed
Rounded and up and gassed
Like a Warsaw ghetto
We cannot recreate
Those deer in the meadow
That approached us at the sluice
We cannot repaint the hues
Of terraced indigo
That surrounded everything
With a dreamtime glow
Through the whole Spring and Summer of 1995
In that West Paterson attic
Where our love lived and died
Where we once defied
All gravity
Our want like a cavity
That could not be filled
No matter how much we drilled
It was magic and tragic
Beginning to end
My Guajarati Ophelia
Madness did descend
And you drowned in a wreath of violets
While all the Pontius Pilates
Washed their hands as they sank you
I was still a child then
I could not yank you
From the bonds of Hindu tradition
Now that I’m a man
I just want to say thank you
For the cosmic transmission
Of the purest love I will ever know
For the home that you provided when I had nowhere to go
For the clean way you decided to disengage and let go
For the smell of sandalwood and jasmine
On your skin and in your clothes
For the mendhi ink in between your regal toes
For the ring that you wear in your sacred nose
I’ll get down on my knees and propose
If I ever find half the woman you are
All I found is Delilah’s so far
Lying to your face as they strum your guitar
Then they talk about devotion
I am drowning in an ocean of deceit
But once I kissed the sandled feet
Of a Goddess.

Letter to my son, five years gone

Hey champ

what’s the news in your dimension?
I got an invitation to write about you the other day
from an old Gainesville friend
he knew you when you were a little baby
when me you and your mom
were living in married housing
scraping by on Pell Grant money
and my part time job as a windowman
staying together because we loved you
even more than we hated each other
and that’s saying something
(some day I would’ve told you the stories
suffice to say
we were children, so we acted like children)

anyway
this invitation
it shook my foundations
upset my equilibrium
like stirring up an iron pot of steaming gumbo
and the liquid boils over and burns your fucking fingers
but in the process
you move what needs to be moved
from the depths to the surface
first I was disturbed
and then I just put it on the back burner
the way I put you on the back burner
to survive
not so much your memory
but rather the memory of your death
the horror
of you blowing your fucking brains out
on your mom and stepdads bed
while they were at the gym
and I was trying to call you
not that I blame you
you were in pain and
this world is bullshit
you were just a brave boy who knew too much too soon
so don’t think I’m not proud of you
I always was
and this didn’t change that
one iota

Whenever I wonder why
you did what you did
I remember how
sensitive you were
a child without skin
this world
this scheme of things as they call it
the set up of this reality
would have only gotten more and more and more
excruciating and unbearable
for you
as time went on

and there aint no pill for that, lad
believe me, I’ve tried them all
this is just to say:
I know how tiresome it all seemed to you
I know how much you suffered
scratch that, mini-me
Truth is
I knew but I did not know
If I had had any real idea
little man
I would’ve done…
what?
I would’ve done something
Shit
I knew you were a moody kid
but I didn’t think the fault lines ran so deep

your mother loved you
your father loved you
your stepfather loved you
she was responsible
I was bohemian
you got order and you got wonder

it was the best, I thought, of both worlds
you had grandparents, friends, cool clothes and a PS2
you had all the material things I never had
you were cool
which at your age
I never was
part of me can’t figure it out
but the part of me that knows you knows
it’s that same part of me that knows that
even though I was not guilty of your death
that’s not quite the same as being innocent
you know I was going through some shit back then
so I wasn’t there for you
in the way that I normally was
in the way that you needed me to be
I know I disappointed you more than once
over those last 6 months
and so really I blame myself
for what happened
the bottom line is:
it was my job to protect you
to keep you safe
and I failed

the only thing I ever cared about in life
more than my writing
was being a good father to you
was I a good father to you?
You’ll have to answer that question
you’re the only one who can
my opinion?
I suppose,
yes, I was
most of the time
but not when it counted

anyway
we’ve been over all this before
the point of doing it all again
is that now I’m going to put it in a public forum
and label it poetry

I’ve been wrestling with the ethics of this
ever since I realized I was going to do it
usually when I write about you
I only show it to a handful of people
and the idea behind this
is that you are sacred
and therefore exempt
from exploitation

every other experience in my life
from painful break-ups to career implosions to random daily catastrophe
I think to myself
“hey,
at least I can get a good poem out of this”
I never wanted you to fall into that category
you are too important
you meant too much
I didn’t want to pimp your memory
in this one thing
in this one lousy fucking thing
I wanted to not be a whore

on the other hand
I’m compelled to share with the world how fucking special you were
You were a unique and magical lifeform
Who touched everyone you touched
I was blessed by the gift of being your father
I’d hate to let anyone forget
you were the apex of my existence
(my raison d etre
if you’ll allow me to be a douchebag
about it)

“thought of you as my mounaintop
thought of you as my peak
thought of you as everything
I had but couldn’t keep”

And no one’s ever seen me weep for you
but I weep for you
for a year after you died
I’d squeeze the syringe and pray
“God please kill me….
God,
please kill me.”

The grief was water
It swamped my oars
Until I washed up on the shores
of strange and beautiful Moravia

Wish you were here, boy
We would have had a real good time

An Ode to Blindness

And crows refracted wingtips
Clutching field mice in their claws
As she walked through tangerine gardens
Parting arabesques of mist

And snakes wriggled into abstractions
Shutting their velvet eyelids
As she walked through tall grass and out again
Twisting her hair into minarets

And trees dreamed up new cubisms
Bearing brilliant deformities on citrus sleeves
As she walked through skies gone liquid
Swallowing watercolors that lay drying

And husks of dead scorpions trembled
Splitting forth a curious chrysalis
As she walked through my front door
The sun flaring up in her eyes.

Thinking of my dead

September 11th
Always makes me think about the firemen
Who rushed into the towers
Knowing they were pretty much going to die

Then I think about my brother
Who is a fireman
Hope he is safe
And wish we lived closer

After that
Inevitably
I am thinking
Of my dead

My sweet, overtender but bad-assed little child,
The love of my life
Who put a Glock to his temple and squeezed the trigger
The night before Christmas Eve at the age of 14 ½

My grandmother who worker hers

My grandmother who worked herself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked himself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked in the coalmines and left 2 tips of
his fingers behind at the World Trade Center construction site
My grandmother who came over from Ireland on a refugee boat

The refugee boy who washed up on the beach
Young Trayvon, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland
Victor Jara, Emmett Till, Bobby Hutton, Bobby Sands
All my campesino brothers and sisters who died in the torture
cells, were thrown out of helicopters, whose exposure and thirst-
bloated corpses line the frontera

I am thinking of my dead and I am weeping as I type these
words
I’m thinking of my dead and the best ways to do right by them
That is all

Review of Dead Horse

niina-pollari-dead-horse-cover

My feelings towards poetry in general are, to put it simply, complex. Or maybe it’s not as I can crudely word my view as such: “I once loved poetry and considered myself as a poet but now I do not love it or claim that title.” More specifically, there are a number of poets that I think are quite worthwhile of people’s attention but in general I find myself aligned with Henry Miller’s criticism of modern poetry in The Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud:

“Our [modern] poets are jealous of the name but show no disposition to accept the responsibilities of their office. They have not proved themselves poets; they are writing not for a world which hangs on their every word but for one another. They justify their impotence by deliberately making themselves unintelligible. They are locked in their glorified little ego; they hold themselves aloof from the world of fear of being shattered at the first contact. They are not even personal, when one gets right down to it, for if they were we might understand their torment and their delirium, such as it is. They have made themselves as abstract as the problems of the physicist. Theirs is a womblike yearning for a world of pure poetry in which the effort to communicate is reduced to zero.”

That said, I must admit that besides the poems shared in a writing group I was in two years ago that I did find worthwhile, I haven’t read any published poetry over the past several years written by anyone in the past twenty years because of my general ambivalence to it. I recognize that there are likely a number of modern poets quite worthy of public attention, however my awareness of this axiom has not been such that it is strong enough to circumvent my desire to avoid having to go through so much chaff to find a few grains of wheat. As such my literary diet has prioritized fiction and non-fiction.

A recent exception to this course is the collection of poems entitled Dead Horse by Niina Pollari. Given the long introduction to this book review – which normally jumps right in to the matter at hand – I will now place at the beginning what I normally state at the end and write that I think that this book is one of those pieces of wheat, it is one of those worthy publications of poetry. I will also add in the interest of full disclosure before reviewing this collection of poems – as if this medium were an investment program on television and I were a financial analyst offering advice on what to buy to build your stock portfolio (which in a way is was I am now doing) – that Niina is one of the two great loves that I have had in my life and that for a brief but bright period half my lifetime ago she was my creative inspiration and collaborationist. All this said, to the Dead Horse!

One of the aspects of the book that I like is the sly humor throughout the poems. There are a number of witty phrasings and lines that never seem to make a poem seem trite or cheap. For instance there is the poem I Love The Phone. This piece reflects how it is that phone connectivity has become a means for self-evaluating people’s worth to others, how people’s nervous anticipation of the vibrating ring of phones has them almost like Pavlov’s dogs and how the digital trail left by it is more valuable as it is tangible. Rather than spouting a jeremiad against this technological entrainment of the body to the logic of the machine – she closes with:

And when the archaeologists find me they can see all the times
That people called or texted
And they can say to themselves
“She was very beloved”

In a way that is humorous, she is able to point out with this that one day our anxieties about such cyborgization of the self will seem without cause and be the new normal. As someone who has seen in their lifetime long notes expressing interest in a person from being cute and endearing to something indicative of some sort of mental disorder, I can both understand, relate and appreciate what will inevitably be the datedness of our thoughts in a few years.

This is not the only instance of technological apparatuses impinging upon the person in Pollari’s poetry (a phrase I crafted as such simply because I found the sound of it sonorous). At the high end of technical development, Niina references a computer in To The Specialists that is sat in front of for “13, 14 hours a day”. While surfing the web for work, it re-forges her spine her spine such that she must see a laborer referenced in the title. At the low end of technical development, she references a home – a.k.a. the safe for the self – in Self-Love is Important that she has stayed in for a for prolonged period of time and this disconnection from nature leads to the consumption of psycho-stimulants (coffee and wine) that leaves a feeling of self loathing only negated by the intellectual recognition that she mush love herself. Lest I get too lost in following certain themes throughout, let me go back to the place my train of thought left before making the above connections.

There’s humor and connection to each not only within the aforementioned individual poems, but throughout – hence their categorization into Bones, Blood and Money in the table of contents. For instance in Nature Poem she states that “Nature bores me / The way a thing I don’t understand bores me / Like when I looked up an article about plagiarism…” and then in the next poem, To The Bone, she states “Please don’t stare, I don’t feel good / I lifted that line out of a teenager’s blog”. The juxtaposition here has an immediate comic effect. The apparent contradiction is not, however, just humorous but insightful as in the latter alluded to work is the sentiment that though people exist as types their manifestation of them is always novel just as songs lyrics may at times sound trite, their meaning changes based upon the context in which they are said or sung. It’s this understated dark humor and depth of perception that made me enjoy the book so much.

For instance in Personal Pain, Pollari recounts a minor operation and a number of other instances in which she experienced physical pain – be it the piercing of a tattoo needle or that of a safety pin. Having spoken with a number of people in the tattoo and suspension scene I know that her assessment of the original stinging sensation referred to in the poem is as she says in the last stanza:

The pain was not transcendent
As much as I would have liked for it to be
Wanting transcendence through pain is a deep wish I always have
I know I am not alone there

All of the other  poems are worth reflecting on in greater detail. I feel like I may be speaking insufficiently about them, however I also want to encourage your to experience them for yourself. If you’d like to read other’s comments about a few more passages, there’s this and also this. Suffice it to say, I’ve read and re-read the collection a few times not and continue to find it engaging. That said – to be honest I must admit there are a few moments when I struggled to understand certain poetic choices – for instance in No Emergency why she chooses to break up of stanzas certain stanzas – as well as the meaning of a few of the images and transitions. I think it’s more likely that I’ve grown accustomed to a certain type of writing style and so sometimes buck the small amount of labor that goes into a deep reading. I’m happy to accept these mysteries now and look forward to solving them later.

*

You can follow Niina’s work here and read a poem of Niina’s that is not included in Dead Horse here.

Also check out this response to Dead Horse called You’re Not the Only One from Night Redacted by Chelsea Hodson.

And then there is this book-video-preview-i-don’t-know-what-to-call-it-thing:

Miami's Economic and Racial Segregation in Unraveling

One of the themes within my book is race’s role in economic and political power. Each part of the series is a first person perspective with worldview that differs dramatically based upon their historical consciousness and the desires they wish to fulfill.

In Book 1, Jesses displays what I and other philosophers of race would call racial ignorance. What does this mean? Pulling from concepts explicated by Frantz Fanon’s in his book Black Skin, White Masks, we learn that whites often lack the experience of systematic prejudice and thus there is a knowing and unknowing of race. Whites can conceptualize race, but have only the experience of the privileged “norm” rather than the racialized Other and thus are unable (or unwilling) to perceive, understand, acknowledge, or relate to the general condition and experiences of non-whites.

Given the widely-touted multi-racial nature of Miami this seems to not fit with normal expectations. However the below maps and history are an attempt to give greater contextualization to how Jesse came to this worldview and also gives background to other characters perspectives on the role of race to their worldview.

predomethnic
Ethnic Map of Miami

Unfortunately this ethnic map of Miami doesn’t also show the history of legislation and settlement to the many cities and townships that make up Miami, Miami Beach and it’s surrounding areas. Including this sort of data we would begin to get a larger understanding of why the composition of the region is that way that it is.

overcrowd
Where people are living in overcrowded units.

As you can see here, in areas that are the poorest people are living in the densest arrangements. While there is little statistical breakdown by the City of Miami of what the percentages relate to in material conditions, from this data and that elsewhere we can see that two bedrooms apartments housing five or more people is normal. If this were the case we would find many of the circumstances described by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Case for Reparations. From the founding of the City of Miami and Miami Beach the patterns of habitations were guided by racial segregationist legislation that was enforced through a combination of policing and intermittent mob actions.

White politicians consistently sought to and successfully deprived black entrepreneurs from accumulating capital in white areas as well as their enterprises in black towns, rabidly fought unionization and collective bargaining campaigns and targeted social justice activists for harassment and assassination. While expanding along the beachfront to the east, whites captured formerly black areas through eminent domain and corrupt housing practices that pushed black west into higher density housing areas.

medhhincbgtemp
Miami’s Median Household Incomes.

This and the patterns of public transportation directly informed the type of labor available to black-American and Caribbean populations (and later Latin American groups) as well as their ability to demand political change, their ability to use  public goods and services as well as their housing options.

Justifications for an inflated police state and greater surveillance of the population at first stemmed from the second World War and the fear of destabilizing acts by foreigners. The work pass system, started in the 1930s, mandated that black and white workers in the tourist sector wear passes, for instance.

This theme would pop up again in various forms in order to legitimize greater oversight of black bodies and delegitimize political opposition to such acts by the government. Jim Crow, in a word, formed thoroughly enmeshed the patterns of habitation, political power and labor in the nascent Miami, which as late as 1953 was, according to Robe Carson, was a “Tropical Frontier” that had not yet been fully conquered by the white race. How so? Well even after 1943, when this threat was no longer credible, and into the 1960’s these passes served to reinforce an apartheid style urban geography.

Miami Beach Work Pass
Miami Beach Work Pass

Various counties created and enforced curfews to keep blacks out of white areas both through their police departments and white vigilantes. Later political upheavals were blamed by foreign agitators from northern Florida and New York to prevent the granting of political demands. The worldview promulgated by local papers was that local blacks were happy with their conditions and it was only because of outside influence that civic unrest occasionally erupted. Racism in the police forces in these and other areas continues to this day.

povbg
Where the Pockets of Poverty Are in Miami.

As the shows, the high rate of poverty in Miami communities of color was not caused by cultural character flaws but by a sustained and systematic assault by the local white and even Federal government policies towards maintaining segregation, preventing communities of color from having access to beachfront property on the larger scale keeping trade going with Caribbean dictatorships that were able to extract higher rates of surplus capital from their investments due to authoritarian practices.

The later success of Cuban communities is often cited as a reason as to why it is a cultural character flaw, however this belies the capital and advanced educational degrees that many first wave migrants were able to bring with, the federal assistance that they were given, the longer history of successful political mobilization they’d experienced and accrued as sociopolitical  capital as well as the notion of the first wave as “white people”.

Median Rents for Miami
Median Rents for Miami

Miamians continues to suffer as a result of it’s past. It’s continuously named as one of the worst places to live, it lacks a comprehensive plan to combat global climatic change due to the interests of land developers – the most powerful political lobby in Florida – it’s politicians and police are recurrently in the press for corruption and illegal acts and as anyone who’s familiar with it knows it’s vast area could be greatly reorganized for more rational and equitable land usage. This is all intimately tied to municipal government development and the influence of predominantly white capital on the areas political economy.

Jesse, however, isn’t aware of any of this. He hasn’t learned this data in his history class. His parents are, like many others living in South Florida, are not natives nor are they aware of it’s history so cannot pass this information along. The private high school he previously attended was predominantly white, as is par for South Florida Private Schools, so he’s not interacted with many black people until last year when he entered a public school. As a result of his growing recognition of the nature of political power and through the course of his increased interaction with black people, however, Jesse comes to have greater awareness of the racial environment of Miami and, in his later book, the surrounding regions. Jesse’s epistemological development is thus not aptly described by calling his views in the beginning racist but ignorant. Furthermore this is not an active ignorance that seeks to maintain privilege but one that seeks ruthlessness to understand and critique how power operates. At each step of his epistemological development Jesse comes to a state of greater empathy, understanding and recognizes a greater duty towards, to bring it back to Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

References

A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida  by N. D. B. Connolly

Miami Beach police shared hundreds of racist and pornographic emails

Fort Lauderdale Cops Fired for Sharing Racist Text Messages and Videos

Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement by Irvin D. S. Winsboro

Take Back the Land by Max Rameau

America’s Most Miserable Cities

100 YEARS: The Dark And Dirty History Of Miami Beach

Where Jesse runs in Unraveling: Book 1

Jesse Oberman’s plans for the summer go sideways after discovering that his parents have decided to send him to a drug rehabilitation and leadership program called Natural Living. Natural Living is based upon the Outward Bound program that deals with troubled youth. The reason that Jesse doesn’t go to one of the many treatment and recovery centers in Miami, Book 2 spoiler alert, is that his mother’s boyfriend wanted to have the summer alone with her.

Some of the many rehab facilities in Miami
Some of the many rehab facilities in Miami.

Jesse emphatically does not want to go to into the program or to the Everglades. From a high enough vantage point it appears that there are no people inhabiting the region at all.

Souther Tip of Florida
Settlements to the right, Everglades to the left.

This, however, is not true. The Everglades have been continuously occupied by various peoples since 1000 B.C. The Calusa were there first, but their population was decimated by disease and guns by colonial settlers who thought that the land could be easily tamed for intensive agriculture. The land, not a swamp but a river of grass wholly unique in the world, was not easily changed a la the Dutch model nor were the indigenous people that moved there from north easily tamed.

Closer up view of a town in the middle of nowhere.

The Muscogee Creek Confederacy was a large civilization in the Mississippi basin area the had lived in the area for some two-thousand years. Faced with dispossession and genocidal actions of the American government and militant settlers, these peoples had two options – to go further west or to go south into areas unsettled by whites. Going west meant conflict with other tribes and continued conflict with White settlers. Going south meant adjusting to life in a radically new environment. Since the

Escaped slaves in Northern Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas were faced with similar considerations. To make a long trip up North where there chances of getting caught were high or to go to the Glades and seek refuge.

The Miccosukee and the Seminoles came to be composed of a mix of indigenous tribes and the descendants of tribesman from Africa. Though their original languages and cultures were different, Creek soon became the common tongue and white men the common enemy. The unpleasant climate and difficulty for agriculture allowed what became the largest haven in the U.S. South for runaway slaves. This was impressive not only for this fact but also as the people’s there were able to organize and lead the largest slave revolt – the 2nd Seminole War –  in U.S. history that lead to the only emancipation of rebellious slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War. This and subsequent bellicosity when faced with continued aggression by the Federal government lead to the Seminole epithet of “unconquered tribe”.

Unraveling
Close up of Miccosukee Indian Village and the gas station where Jesse tries to flee from Natural Living.

Jesse’s entrance into the Everglades and the experiences that he has there should thus not be seen simply as a “rehab and recovery trip”. In Unraveling the only mention of white society’s impact on the Everglades is the early 20th century government’s spreading of melaleuca seeds (now considered an invasive exotic that current taxpayers must pay to destroy) by plane to soak up the fresh water, the introduction of pythons that have decimated the natural wildlife and the alteration of the region via dikes and levies operated by the South Florida Water Management District. Despite this lacuna of discussion, this deeper history remains in the land at a deeper level and Jesse’s speedy adaptation to life there as well as the mystical experience he has directly before he returns home should be seen as his unconscious connection to this history.

References

National Park Service: Everglades

River of Grass

The Enduring Seminoles

Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.

 

Floridians for a South Florida Land Management District

 

Floridians for a South Florida Land Management District (FSFLMD)

Phase 1: Project Formation

Statement of Need for Project Initialization

The Seven50 Plan for Prosperity outlines a number issues facing the South Florida region including but not limited to such issues as:

(1) Continuing population growth that requires the Region’s local governments to make major investments in infrastructure, to both maintain and expand existing services such as transportation, water, wastewater, solid waste and education for both existing and new residents.

(2) Environmental changes as a result of climate change that will have a major impact on South Florida’s land available for human use.

(3) The need for economic diversification, an increase in research and development projects and the creations of conditions that lead to the retention of postsecondary talent.

Despite these broad calls to action, however, there is no single group currently advocating for a comprehensive response for these issues that affect all of South Florida.

The two organizations that do concern themselves with such issues the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (which focuses on Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River Counties) and the South Florida Regional Planning Council (which focuses on Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties) currently act merely as think tanks without the ability to enforce their rational, long-term oriented models for land-use and development.

Project Charter

In accordance with Chapter 186.502 Paragraph 3 of the Florida Statutes:

The regional planning councils are designated as the primary organization to address problems and plan solutions that are of greater-than-local concern or scope, and the regional planning council shall be recognized by local governments as one of the means to provide input into state policy development.

However Planning Councils are limited by section (4)

The regional planning council is recognized as Florida’s only multipurpose regional entity that is in a position to plan for and coordinate intergovernmental solutions to growth-related problems on greater-than-local issues, provide technical assistance to local governments, and meet other needs of the communities in each region. A council shall not act as a permitting or regulatory entity.

As such the members of the Floridians for a South Florida Land Management District (FSFLMD) seek to create a regulatory body (South Florida Land Management District) able to do more than propound limited suggestions as to what ought to be done. This regulatory body will be guided by the findings in the Seven50 Plan for Prosperity and will consist of, but not be limited to, the following powers:

  • Act as a regional regulatory body with various competencies that supersedes the powers of local and county governments.
  • Act as an arbiter for local governments in inter-jurisdictional conflicts.
  • Examination and rationalization of the motley patchwork of laws and taxation structures that discourage vertical development.
  • Encourage the implementation of long-term plans for growth and development aligned with the goals of Sustainability, Connectivity and Responsibility.
  • Creation and implementation of cost sharing strategies and savings plans between local governments to minimize the need for duplicative efforts.

Project Objectives/Success Criteria

  1. Create a detailed contact database of associated stakeholders, industry groups, professional and technical associations, subject matter experts and opinion makers.
  2. Identify the actors that would seek to constrain or assist the FSFLMD.
  3. Develop a coherent, consistent and multi-media call to political action on behalf of the FSFLMD.
  4. Create a detailed organizational outline, based upon the South Florida Water Management District, for consideration by the State Legislature.
  5. Determine the legal areas (ie. government Standards, industry standards and regulations) that would be reformed by the SFLMD
  6. Formation of a 501 (c)(3).
  7. Determine Goals, Indicators, Baselines, and Targets for Phase 2: Project Implementation.

Rules of Volunteering

  1. Work smart, not hard.
  2. Document everything.
  3. All outbound requests/deliverables get final authorization by Prof. Sheen.