Watching the movie “All the King’s Men”

Willie Stark rises to governor by igniting the fears of under-served working people and taking money from oil companies, utilities, and other large donors. He wields the threat of his populist support and his money to bend rules, strong arm opponents, and further augment his power and his coffers.

Does this sound familiar? Much of the 1949 Academy Award winning film follows a script that could be taken from current events.

Abuse of Power

Anyone who stands in Stark’s way risks his ire and worse, and this includes close supporters and family members who grow weary of his tactics. He has no inhibitions when it comes to destroying people. His vision is greater, his alone.

Author Robert Penn Warren based the character of Willie Stark on Huey Long, a controversial Depression-era Governor and Senator from Louisiana. The theme of Stark’s (and Long’s) rise and fall is whether or not his good works justify his means.

Portrait of a Demagogue

As governor, Stark’s investments in infrastructure and education presaged the New Deal, but he bears more resemblance to Mussolini than FDR. Warren said of Long, “Dictators, always give something for what they get.”

On a more personal level, Warren examines whether Stark pushed his programs because he cared for the people or because he cared only for his own power and cult of personality. Like all great literature, the answer is mixed, but throughout the arc of the story Stark moves from one pole to the other. 

Robert Penn Warren

Given our current dialogue on social justice and race, Robert Penn Warren is a noteworthy social commentator in addition to his literary achievements. Warren wrote nine novels including his Pulitzer Prize winner All the King’s Men. But he is best known for his poetry, which won him another Pulitzer Prize. As one of the founders of New Criticism and its literary analysis techniques, Warren has taught generations of poets and scholars how to read poetry.

Born in 1905 and educated at Vanderbilt, Warren’s early writing echoes the racist attitudes he was born into. However, in later years he renounced those views. Former US Poet Laureate Natasha Treadway lauds Warren’s social evolution as a blueprint for change: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2014/05/15/natasha-trethewey-delivers-final-lecture-as-u-s-poet-laureate/

“All the King’s Men” is a movie worth watching and a great excuse to revisit Robert Penn Warren’s poetry.

A Poem by Robert Penn Warren

Here is one of my favorite poems from the Poetry Foundation website (originally published by Poetry Magazine in May 1932). https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=19660

The Owl
 
Here was the sound of water falling only,
Which is not sound but silence musical
Tumbling forever down the gorge's wall.
Like late milkweed that blooms beside the lonely
And sunlit stone, peace bloomed all afternoon.
Where time is not is peace; and here the shadow,
That crept to him across the western meadow
And climbed the hill to mark the dropping sun,
Seemed held a space, washed downward by the water
Whose music flowed against the flow of time.
It could not be. Dark fell along the stream,
And like a child grown suddenly afraid,
With shaking knees, hands bloody on the stone,
Toward the upland gleaming fields he fled.

My Reading for the Shade Literary Arts Benefit June 19, 2020

Here is a clip of my segment from the zoom Reading to Benefit Shade Literary Arts, which was organized by Cristina Deptula of Authors, Large and Small.

I was honored to read with several amazing authors: Mary Mackey, Alice Taylor, Henry Hitz, Martha Franks, Kiran Bhat, and Gini Grossenbacher.

Authors, Large and Small and Shade Literary Arts acknowledge the injustice of wrongful law enforcement killings of Black people. Both organizations support Black Lives Matter and see and hear the affected communities.

Shade Literary Arts and Authors, Large and Small Literary Publicity are coming together to host virtual benefit readings for Shade Literary’s emergency fund for queer writers of color struggling due to coronavirus. The fund distributes small direct grants, usually of a few hundred dollars each, to as many individual applicants as possible.

If you would like the full recording or a transcript, or if you would like to contribute to Shade Literary Arts, please email authorslargeandsmall@gmail.com.

I read from my collection The Poet’s Garage.

Barcelona Opera Reopens With An Audience Of Plants

The Barcelona Opera Plays to Plants

I love this story from NPR. Plants are such good listeners. I talk to mine all the time and they often respond, though not as enthusiastically as Pearl, our Golden Retriever.

Unfortunately, the concert coverage did not include interviews with the plants and their general reaction to the music. I know from experience that plants can be both encouraging and critical in their analysis of human actions. But they appreciate music more than most of our noisy clatter. In times like these, the plants’ Top Ten might be the music we need.

My wife’s reaction to the story was more practical: what if all the plants had to empty their pots at once during intermission? But I believe most plants would rather bask in the fluorescent overhead lights and let the concession staff–butterflies and hummingbirds–bring them selections of pollen and rainwater.

The Barcelona Opera performed in honor of health care providers. On the behalf of the plants and all of us, I pass my appreciation to the honorees and the musicians.

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/22/881943143/barcelona-opera-reopens-with-an-audience-of-plants

Sentient plants and birds are among my favorite writing subjects. You can find several examples in my poetry collection, The Poet’s Garage

Benefit Reading for Shade Literary Arts and Authors

On Friday June 5th, at 4pm PST, I will participate in an online benefit reading for Shade Literary Arts.

Joan Gelfand, Neil Perry Gordon, Anlor Davin, and Hari Lamba will also read, and I am honored to be included with these fine writers.

Details of the event are summarized below and more information is posted on the eventbrite link. Please note that you do not have to donate to watch the reading.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/diverse-authors-read-to-benefit-shade-literary-arts-queer-writers-of-color-relief-fund-tickets-102942838802

Description of virtual benefit readings for Shade Literary’s emergency fund for queer writers of color

First of all, Authors, Large and Small and Shade Literary acknowledge the injustice of wrongful law enforcement killings of Black people. We support Black Lives Matter and see and hear the affected communities.

Shade Literary Arts and Authors, Large and Small Literary Publicity are coming together to host virtual benefit readings for Shade Literary’s emergency fund for queer writers of color struggling due to coronavirus. The fund distributes small direct grants, usually of a few hundred dollars each, to as many individual applicants as possible.

These events are pay-what-you-can – no one turned away, but please give as much as you can because your help directly impacts people’s lives. These events take place Friday June 5th, Friday June 12th, and Friday June 19th, all at 4pm to 5:00 pm PST and will be recorded so ticket-holders can listen later.

Here’s the lineup for the third event, Friday June 5th, at 4pm PST

Joan Gelfand (novelist, poet and filmmaker, will read ecological poetry about the Pacific Northwest)
http://www.joangelfand.com/

Terry Tierney (poet, speaker, scholar of Victorian literature, will read from his latest book A Poet’s Garage)
https://terrytierney.com/

Neil Perry Gordon (historical fiction writer, will read from Hope City, about 1890s Alaskan pioneers)
https://www.neilperrygordon.com/

Anlor Davin (tennis star, classroom teacher, Zen meditation leader, will read from her memoir Being Seen, about life with an autism diagnosis)
http://anlordavin.com/

Hari Lamba (engineer and environmental activist, will read from his new book Brighter Climate Futures in honor of World Environment Day)
https://www.linkedin.com/in/hari-lamba-292848a/