World Poetry Movement: A Leap Forward


The World Poetry Movement (WPM)/Movimiento Mundiale de

Poesia (MMP) is pleased to announce to the world its next major

event, which is called:


       A      LEAP      FORWARD

and will take place E V E R YW H E R E on the Leap-year Day

and Night, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY  29, 2012. The Co-

ordinating Committee of the WPM/MMP urges all poets, groups

involved with poetry throughout the world, to begin organizing

events in their particular areas—-whether it involves cities, small

towns or villages—under the umbrella of A LEAP FORWARD.


It may seem only a coincidence but the Occupy Wall Street move-

ment that began of September 17. 2011 occurred within the process

of the call for 100 Thousand Poets for Change, the WPM event that

manifested on September 24 of last year. And we have seen that,

with th Occupy movement bursting out and proliferating all over,

“there’s a poem being written by the people of the world” and it is

filled with cries for justice and real democracy, with all the aspects of

life—-from the economic to the ecological—that were part of the very

formation of the WPM itself, simply because they are part of the fabric

of people’s yearnings everywhere.

Events that will be multiple leaps forward under A LEAP FORWARD

moniker—events with poets who, in the past year, (what with Tunisia,

Egypt, Wisconsin, to name but a few), have been catalyzed by dynamic

inspiration and realize their consciousness of the world has grown by

leaps and bounds, can reveal those passionate leaps as part of the great

flow of events on Leap-year Day and Night, 2012, and collectively move

the whole world forward toward the democracy that all of us are dying

for and want to attain before we die.

         Let the WPM/MMP know where your event will be held by writing:                      


Let’s Organize The Greatest Poetry Events In The History Of The Word

                            And The World By Taking

               A LEAP FORWARD

Art and Occupy in Los Angeles

Occupy L.A. and the Art World

A wave of art projects go hand in hand with the protest

Published in the Los Angeles Weekly, Thursday, Nov 24 2011

On Nov. 11, artists Elana Mann and Juliana Snapper brought two big, flesh-colored papier-mâché ears and a handful of poster-board signs with ears drawn on them down to the tarp-covered library at Occupy L.A. There they met up with a small group of artists, writers and curious occupiers, who joined them on a “listening walk,” navigating the encampment while holding the handmade ears in the air to show bystanders that listening was going on.

During Artist Sinnombre's performance The Ballad of the Disenfranchised at Occupy LACMA last weekend, visitors could choose a word from the bowl to fill in the blank on the sign.

During Artist Sinnombre’s performance
The Ballad of the Disenfranchised at Occupy LACMA
last weekend, visitors could choose a word from
the bowl to fill in the blank on the sign.

Given the dense visual activity around City Hall right now, focusing on just sound is not easy, and occupiers who noticed them seemed to appreciate the effort. One called it the Van Gogh parade. Others said, “Can you hear me?”

“It’s good that you’re listening,” said a man who walked with them briefly. “Did you go down to the south side, where there were all those cops today? You really should go listen down there.”

Mann, a performance and video artist, has attended the movement’s general-assembly gatherings and seen people get riled up and ideas left behind. “We had noticed both how difficult it was to listen at Occupy L.A.,” she says, “and also the amazing speaking and listening techniques that are happening in the Occupy movement.”

When the Occupy Wall Street effort began its spread two months ago, many in the arts community felt an affinity toward the protestors, not only agreeing with their stance on inequality and anger toward finance companies but seeing a parallel in the arts world, where museums and other institutions are struggling to keep afloat and often playing it safe to stay in donors’ good graces. Occupy L.A. has been an opportune setting for art projects that channel these anxieties.

This spring, Mann and concert soprano Snapper (along with two others) co-founded the group ARLA (a shifting acronym that has stood for Audile Receptives Los Angeles and A Ripe Little Archive). Many of their strategies come from Pauline Oliveros, an accordionist-turned-composer who began experimenting with electronic music in the 1950s, before it really even existed. She pioneered what she calls Deep Listening, or “listening to everything all the time and reminding yourself when you’re not listening.”

Like a lot of the artist activity at Occupy L.A., the ARLA performance would have happened occupancy or no occupancy, and in fact already had, at the Getty two weeks before. Participants there consisted of families and children, and the museum’s pristine granite surfaces provided an atmosphere emphatically different from the tent-covered one downtown.

But the fluid nature of the camp, with leaders and inhabitants changing regularly, and the baffling inclusiveness of the movement’s “occupy everything” agenda, made it an ideal setting for Deep Listening. Feeling heard put people at ease. The occupiers invited Mann and Snapper to come back weekly, and they obliged.

“They said that there were few, if any, opportunities to get together as people, rather than around a particular issue,” Mann says.

Since the recession hit, a number of artists’ projects have taken measured approaches to questioning the practices of museums, trustees and other elite players in the arts economy. In the same way that most members of Occupy L.A. would encourage the involvement of politicians, artists seem less interested in attacking institutions than reforming them.

When the collective Machine Project “occupied” LACMA for two days in 2008, building birdhouses on the balconies and playing live music in the elevators, they just wanted to open the museum up to a little more diversity. But when the current Occupy movement spread to museums in New York last month, with demonstrations outside MoMA and the New Museum, organizer Noah Fischer was confrontational, declaring, “No longer will we, the artists of the 99 percent, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting a corrupt hierarchical system.”

Occupy LACMA, organized through Facebook by an anonymous artists’ group and held Nov. 20, was more tempered. It targeted LACMA as a symbolic center of the creative community and claimed no “singular objective” other than “to hear and listen.” Occupiers wore red, the color of the supports of the nearby Broad Contemporary wing, and held political discussions at a table in the museum’s courtyard.

One of the artists who participated in Machine’s earlier LACMA project was Liz Glynn, whose current series of performances at MOCA, called “Loving You Is Like Fucking the Dead,” explores her own conflicted relationship to the museum, an institution that’s both an amazing resource and a “crystal palace,” austere and averse to change. The first week of November, Glynn’s MOCA Goes Dark happened a few blocks above the Occupy headquarters at the museum on Grand Avenue. Blindfolded visitors, led through the permanent collection by the sound of jangling keys, had to trust security guards and visitor service volunteers. This performance and the final one, a dinner party scheduled for Dec. 1, rearrange the hierarchy of the museum idealistically, making visitors and the employees on the pay ladder’s lower rungs more central to its functioning.

Glynn is on the committee of the Public School, an artist-founded, consensus-run, curriculum-free school based out of a Chung King Road storefront. Anyone can propose a class and anyone can volunteer to teach. Justin Biren, also an artist and committee member, advocated for moving classes down to Occupy L.A. the week the encampment started. “The main purpose was just seizing the moment and showing solidarity,” he says. “The whole [Occupy] thing folded perfectly into the underpinning of the Public School.” Classes, including one on civil disobedience and another on architecture theory, met in the Occupy L.A. library until, days before NYPD raided Zuccotti Park, the committee decided to move back to Chinatown (a public university sanctioned by the movement had begun to hold classes at the library, too).

Few of the artist activities at Occupy L.A. have been “official.” Most have slipped in informally, like many of the occupiers themselves, though there’s an exception: Artists March to Occupy L.A., held Nov. 14 and organized by Susie Tanner, a teaching artist and performer who has worked in theater in the city since 1979. It took her a month to get on the official calendar, as her contacts kept leaving or moving on to different committees. Then, when she finally did secure the date and show up to march with about 60 people, no one at the encampment really seemed to care. “They seemed to be in their own world,” Tanner says. “In a way it was disappointing, but also kind of fascinating, like coming into a village that’s in progress, where no one minds you’re there but everyone has their own priorities.”

Tanner also organized a program of music and spoken word in the main square west of City Hall, an event mainly featuring artists who had participated in protests during the Vietnam War. Doors drummer John Densmore was there, as was poet Luis J. Rodriguez and writer-musician Ruben Guevara. Afterwards, on the walk to dinner in Little Tokyo, Densmore compared the Occupy movement to war protests in the 1970s, an era in which sculptor Mark di Suvero spearheaded the Artists’ Tower of Protest and a foreign policy demonstration was held at LACMA. “This goes beyond what we were doing then,” he said. “It’s about change to the core.”

“Everything is in crisis; that’s why it’s called an apocalypse,” Rodriguez says. “Everyone thinks apocalypse is an ending, but really it’s an unveiling.”

He, ARLA, Liz Glynn and members of the Public School are all interested in opening things up, pulling back covers to show the inner workings of the systems and institutions that govern us. That works for art, and, weirdly, for now at least, it seems to be working for protestors.

Art, Labor, Politics

I was in my early twenties when I recognized the need to become politically active.  I had entered medical school in the fall, 1964.  When Johnson was elected president that year, it was a response to Barry Goldwater’s jingoistic arguments to expand the war ongoing in Southeast Asia and a defense of his “Great Society” legislation.  Even as the war expanded, a certain ticket for young physicians overseas,  I came face to face with the fact that health care was available to the wealthy and not to the poor.  Training at Los Angeles County Hospital forced me to confront the lessons we were learning:  that our alcoholic, downtrodden, acutely and chronically  ill patients were worthless human beings.  Other students, like me disturbed by the discrepancy in health services to residents of Beverly Hills and Watts, had started a school newspaper.  They’d titled it Borborygmi — presumably the protesting bowel sounds emerging from the shit of our human detritus.  It was here that I first learned about layout and combining art with text.  Here I copied the pictures from the Dover edition of the drawings and etchings and block prints of Kathe Kollwitz.  Some 45 years ago I stumbled on the connection between art, labor and politics that I have been grappling with ever since.

Yes, I had listened to The Weavers, Pete Seeger, and others.  But now I learned to manipulate visual images to enhance the printed word.  And so perhaps this was the first time I considered art as more than spectacle, instead something with which to engage, in which to participate.

Tonight I spent 30 minutes waiting in the Democratic Party HQ in Rogers Park, where I live, waiting to confront the alderman.  The liberal Joe Moore had voted, along with every other alderman, to support the budget of incoming mayor Rahm Emmanuel.  Every alderman, including the liberal Joe Moore, had voted to cut services to the mentally ill and considerably more. As we confronted him, took over his meeting, warned him that we were watching, pictures flashed deep in my brain, remembrances of times when I first found Kollwitz.   When I first saw those wide eyed children with their empty plates gazing upward for food;  the woman being torn asunder and the women grouped together for their collective protection and strength. Tonight one of my cohorts asked how it was possible for artists to respond so quickly to the changing conditions that they find with new and more inventive cartoons at every instance of oppression.

I give thanks to Kollwitz to this very day for making me aware of the importance of combining art and politics, how the artist draws inspiration from the battles of daily life to survive.  And how the artist helps to transform the consciousness, the understanding of the tasks we all have to transform the society in which children have to beg for their next meals.

A number of you-tube videos are available of her work:

with a Mikis Theodorakis score:

another very dark score:

Lew Rosenbaum — Monday, 21 November, 2011

What Work Is, and Isn’t: Poet Laureate Philip Levine — by Nick Coles

What Work Is, and Isn’t: Poet Laureate Philip Levine

In between grading student papers, revising my department’s mission statement, taking my son to soccer games, and following the Occupy Wall Street protests, I’ve been thinking about Phil Levine being named Poet Laureate for 2011- 2012.  It’s about time: at 83, he has been writing powerful poetry for five decades.  Nevertheless, in “Voice of the Workingman to be Poet Laureate,” the New York Times quotes the librarian of Congress who made the appointment as saying, “I find him an extraordinary discovery because he introduced me to a whole new world I hadn’t connected to in poetry before.” Clearly, those of us interested in bringing working-class literature into classrooms and to the forefront of the culture still have work to do.  I’ve included Levine’s poems in three anthologies of working-class writing I have co-edited—two with Peter Oresick and one with Janet Zandy—and I teach them every chance I get.

So when I was asked recently to speak as part of a panel on working-class literature sponsored by the International Socialist Organization, I used Levine as one of my examples.  I chose one of his best-known poems, “What Work Is.”  Published in 1991 in the book of the same name, “What Work Is,” like many of Levine’s poems, evokes industrial Detroit where he grew up and worked in the auto plants, in the late 1940s and 1950s.   It begins:

We stand in the rain in a long line

waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.

You know what work is–if you’re

old enough to read this you know what

work is, although you may not do it.

Forget you. This is about waiting,

shifting from one foot to another.

Queuing for work, the poem’s narrator thinks he sees his brother ahead of him in line.  But it is another man, a worker whose grin shows the same “stubbornness,”

the sad refusal to give in to

rain, to the hours wasted waiting,

to the knowledge that somewhere ahead

a man is waiting who will say, “No,

we’re not hiring today,” for any

reason he wants.

In the second half of the poem the narrator is flooded with love for his brother, who is not in line because he is home sleeping off “a miserable night shift / at Cadillac so he can get up before noon to study his German”: “Works eight hours a night so he can sing / Wagner, the opera you hate most.”

Looking back across the decades since that day, the poet asks:

How long has it been since you told him

you loved him, held his wide shoulders,

opened your eyes wide and said those words,

and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never

done something so simple, so obvious,

not because you’re too young or too dumb,

not because you’re jealous or even mean

or incapable of crying in

the presence of another man, no,

just because you don’t know what work is.

I admire the way the poem addresses its own question backwards.  What work is gets revealed through what work is not: grinning, singing opera, loving your brother.  Typically for a Levine poem, there’s a resistant dignity in the small acts that keep us human, even when there’s little of that in labor itself, and none at all in being denied work.  You see this dignity in famous Levine poems like “They Feed They Lion,” written in response to the Detroit riots of 1967, or “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives,” with its classic conclusion: “Not this pig.”

As it happened, my colleague Robin Clarke was on the same ISO panel and had chosen the same poem to illustrate her talk.  Robin also teaches composition and literature at Pitt, but unlike me, she is a poet and so has a different investment in the politics of poetic practice demonstrated by Levine.   This became the subject of lively debate on the panel and with the audience.

Robin finds “What Work Is” beautiful in its evocation of the feeling of standing in that line, but she does not see the poem as an example of working-class literature because it is not part of “a literature of revolution.”  For her this is as much a matter of language as of political content or class position.  That is, the poem speaks through lucid language and carefully wrought lines, from the position of a fully realized humanity that is in fact not possible for most people under capitalism.  In doing so, it betrays the reality of “what it means to be a member of the working class”:

In a poem like Levine’s—which is the dominant mode of contemporary American poetry—the poet becomes the source of redemption, restoring dignity in ways the society itself cannot.  A poetry of the working class—a revolutionary poetry—must demand that its reader demand system change, must show us the wound rather than seem to heal it.

Robin went on to share excerpts from poems by Claudia Rankine and Julianna Spahr that enact this principle.  They do this by staging a formal conflict in the poem itself, demonstrating that the poet is not more in control of language and images “than they or we are in control as citizen subjects.”  This way the reader is not “lulled into submission” by the poem, but, in a sense, agitated by it.

I think a poetry that wants to attend to the reality of working class exploitation can only do so by challenging notions about language, for it is language that transmits the ideology of the 1% day after day on television, from the mouths of our elected officials and all their corporate sponsors . . ..  Our attitude toward language embodies a whole attitude toward reality, and it is this we need to differently imagine.

While we disagree about Levine, I agree with Robin that this is an important political discussion to stage with students in any classroom.   Which is why I see the debate as more than a minor storm in a literary teacup.   The market for poetry may be small—though writers like Levine have helped expand it.   But even in today’s economy, roughly 50% of young people in the US attend college, and most of them will take required Humanities courses.  In these writing or literature classrooms they may encounter poems through which they can critique everyday language and address fundamental social questions.

Asking “what work is,” even in a time of mass unemployment, can lead to asking about how work is allocated, organized, and controlled.  For example, with a shorter workweek, everyone who needs or wants a job might have one—and still have time to learn German, play soccer, or write poetry.  Or, in Marx’s vision of communist society: “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind.”

Perhaps Robin and I could agree that a good poem provokes a revolution in consciousness.  Whether such movement in thinking and feeling contributes to larger social transformations will depend on the particular negotiation between reader and text, in the context of a particular historical moment.  Today when I read  “What Work Is,” my responses include gratitude for my relatively secure professional job, a resolution to head downtown for the next OWS event in solidarity with those whose security is being shredded, and a desire to hug my brother when I next see him.

The Poet Laureate has few official duties.  Some have created projects to promote the cultural work poetry can do.  Levine has jokingly proposed “a project in which people would be asked to name the ugliest poem they could think of.”  Whatever he decides to do with his year as the nation’s top poet, I hope he enjoys himself.  He’s earned it.  He knows what work is.

Nick Coles

Nick Coles teaches working-class literature at the University of Pittsburgh.  He is the president of the Working-Class Studies Association.