Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Joby, Uninterrupted:Bittersweet Symphonies and Bohemian Rhapsodies(1989-2009)

This is my baby. The culmination of 20 years of blood, sweat, and tears. Of words found and lost; of love found and lost and found again; of lives lived and lost. Just shy of 80 poems depicting my ever-evolving worldview; my love of jazz and black history; celebrating the dichotomy and paradox we call life, in all its beauty and ugliness--in all its truth. I would even be so presumptuous as to call it my masterpiece. If I never wrote another book, and I hope that won't be true, I would be satisfied with this one.

I'm hoping as we say goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010, that this book will be the start of something big, not least of which, my goal of becoming a full-time writer and not a slave to people who want to work me to death, yet pay me so little for busting my ass doing the best possible work that I'm capable of. While I hope to write more poetry, I also want to venture forth into writing screenplays, short stories, and maybe even a novel or two... Not to mention continuing this blog, which I realize, given the date of the last entry here, I've been rather lackadaisical in doing. But anyone who knows me, knows that I've not always been the most disciplined when it comes to this sort of thing. As always, I hope to be become better at this, as with other areas of my life.

In a society where seemingly anyone who draws breath can become a celebrity for doing virtually nothing, I at the very least want to put myself out there as trying to contribute something meaningful into the ether--something profound and creative and inspirational; in short, art, that will hopefully stand the test of time. An unobtainable goal? I don't know--those who we consider to be great artists, thinkers, etc., all started out with a dream and the desire to be something greater than themselves--many of them never getting to reap the benefits of their work before they passed on. I at least want to try; I at least want to become more prolific, like some of my favorite writers, both living and dead. To get to the point where I am able to write something, anything, every day, even if it's crap. To continue spilling my blood and guts on the page; to create characters that come alive in people's minds as they read my words; to hopefully inspire kids and adults alike to create and to dream bigger than themselves.

I'm not one for resolutions--they never seem to be kept anyway. But my goal for the new year is what I've just written and I hope whoever reads these words(and-- shameless plug--buys my book) will encourage and spur me on to continue putting words to paper--to speak truth into the wilderness; to show us ourselves; provide a different way of seeing, which is what great art does. If I may one last time, please consider starting your new year off by getting a copy of my book of poems. I can guarantee that you won't be sorry.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Thought For The Week

"...As I grew older I questioned a great many of the things that I knew very well my grandmother who had brought me up had taken for granted. And I think I might have been a quite difficult person to live with if it hadn't been for the fact that my husband once said it didn't do you any harm to learn those things, so why not let your children learn them? When they grow up they'll think things out for themselves.... And that gave me a feeling that perhaps that's what we all must do--think out for ourselves what we could believe and how we could live by it."

--Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thought For The Week

"The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just."

- Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Thought For The Week

"God has made of one blood all nations under heaven. No man can suddenly become my enemy just because he happened to have been born on the other side of a river or a boundary line, and his government has issued an ultimatum against mine. Is it not time that we refused to fight?"

- Muriel Lester,
social reformer and pacifist (1883-1968)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Prodigal--A Poem

I remember the sound of joyful noise
When I cried out your name,
The smell of your perfume;
The tears I shed
As I laid my head
At your feet.

I remember the smile on my face
As you spoke my name,
As if I was just hearing it
For the first time.

I remember,
Lord, do I remember,
Though your name rarely crosses
My lips anymore;
My eyes are dry,
And your fragrance,
A distant memory.

And the noise I hear now,
Are the voices,
The voices,
Coming at me from all directions,
From within
And without,
Deafening,
Deafening.

And yet,
And yet,
They do not drown out
What I remember
Of you;
That which has brought me,
Stumbling,
To your doorstep,
For another whiff of your perfume,
To hear you say my name,
To lay my head at your feet;
Because I’m afraid,
I might not remember
For long.


© 2009 Joseph Powell

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thought For The Week

"If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large."

- William Wilberforce,
British abolitionist and social reformer (1759-1833)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Manifesto--Why I Write (A New Poem)

Because I must;
Because I can;
Because it's akin to breathing
And the alternative is unthinkable.
Because the love of Christ compels me.
Because the love of mankind compels me.
Because, sometimes, I can never say what I feel.
Because the truth needs to be read
And newspapers are slowly going out of business.

Because a 10-year old black boy,
on the South Side of Chicago,
wearing glasses, chubby and
with crooked teeth,
needs to know it's possible.

Because a 40-ish white writer I met
at an art show near downtown L.A. the other night,
needs to know it's possible
and needs to give a shit
and come out from his shell.

Because I'm getting better at it, even though
no one pays me a dime for it.

Because James Baldwin did it.
And Langston Hughes did it.
And Gwendolyn Brooks did it.
And so did Maya Angelou.

Because it's the closest I'll ever come
to singing.
Because it's the closest I'm ever going to come
to playing jazz. And I love jazz!

Because I still have stuff to say, even if
I don't know what that is just yet.

Because being a writer
is the best thing in the world,
second only to being a teacher...
Or maybe a firefighter...
Or maybe even a cop...
Or a doctor, but that's it.

Because, aside from never recognizing
another person's talent, it's a damn shame
to allow one's talent to be squandered;
for one's light to be hidden;
a gift to be kept to one's self;
for words to never be written, even if
they've been written before.

And that is why I write.


© 2009 Joseph Powell

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Thought For The Week

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

– C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lo, How Two Roses Not Yet Blooming(for Martin and Marvin)--A New Poem

On this day in April
I saw two roses,
not quite in full bloom
just yet,
fall to the ground.
And cried
blood-red tears.
Screamed,
'What's going on?'
Wailed,
'How long?'
Why do the good
always die young?
Always at the hand
Of those who don't understand
or who have not ears to hear
or eyes to see
beauty
and truth
in flesh beholden.
Even God must weep,
I hope,
for creation yet incomplete,
interrupted,
is most assuredly
a tragedy,
for which
there are never enough tears,
blood-red or otherwise
and all we are left with
after the crying and the weeping
is the remembering
and wondering
what might have been?

© 2009 Joseph Powell

Monday, April 06, 2009

Thoughts For The Week

"My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

"What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black. "

--Robert F. Kennedy

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thoughts For The Week

We are afraid of religion because it interprets rather than just observes. Religion does not confirm that there are hungry people in the world; it interprets the hungry to be our brethren whom we allow to starve.

- Dorothee Sölle,
German theologian and writer, Death by Bread Alone (1975).


When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

- Dom Helder Camara,
former Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thought For The Week

"When peoples care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul."

- Langston Hughes

Monday, March 09, 2009

Thought For The Week

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Uncomfortably Numb

I wish I could allow anger to fuel my writing passionately and prolifically, the way that anger fuels Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers to score 40+ points in a basketball game. Because I am angry and not a little frustrated at my current state of affairs. You see, I'm one of the millions of people dramatically affected by what's been going on in our nation's economy. Two months ago, I was laid off from a job that paid me less than $500 a week basically delivering packages and media-related items for one of the world's largest film studios( who I shall leave nameless, though they just recently made over $1 billion on the biggest hit movie of last year, which shall also go nameless). In the interim of those two months, I have had to contend with an unemployment office that has basically left me in the dark as to when I might receive my benefit checks, even after numerous phone and email attempts; having to seek alternative work whereever I might be able to find it(after about a month, I did finally manage to find a part-time job as a non-emergency medical shuttle driver); needless to say, also contend with the fact that my bills were going to have to be delayed or put off and that rent would have to be paid incrementally as I somehow managed to scrounge and scramble to cobble together enough money to put towards it; and also, along with my wife(who I'm supporting while she's in cosmetology school), have to apply for food stamps and accept donated food from a local food bank. And all this, after being laid off a year ago, for nearly five months, from the same job due to the WGA strike(which, as a writer who initially supported them in principle, seemed to me to be especially ironic!).

So, yes, I'm angry. I'm angry, because at 44 years of age and looking back at my life and the promise I believe I had both before I entered college and after I graduated, I certainly did not see myself here(which, I'm sure, is a sentiment I share with a lot of people in probably not dissimilar positions, though that's no consolation). I look back at a lot of poor choices and mediocre jobs; on avenues of opportunities that I should have pursued and now regret that I didn't. I also find myself wavering in belief in a God that I know has seen me through a lot of these things, both good and bad. I know that I have been blessed by moments of grace, especially during my college years, that left me with little doubt that there was someone watching over me who was more than just merely benevolent, but was and seemed ever-present. Even now, I have, on occasion, experienced not dissimilar moments of grace as well. But the little doubt has grown exponentially in spite thereof, which I try to fight against and find myself failing miserably--which scares me, because as I became an adult, I became constantly of the mind that believing in God was akin to believing in breathing and that the alternative was unthinkable. And yet...here I am, wondering if God still watches and listens, even in spite of myself.

I want so much in my life and out of my life that I can't see straight. I still harbor the goal and dream of being a successful writer. Of being able to provide my family a comfortable and suitable home and bills that are paid in full and on time. Being able to travel to see family and friends at will or take a vacation or two. Again, I wish that knowing that there are other people out there with similar dreams and goals and aspirations were a consolation to me, but unfortunately, it is not, though I do hope that they are able to see their dreams realized, as do I. And, lest I forget to mention, that I am also angry at those who profited on the dreams of millions of struggling and working people only to turn around now and ask us to support them being bailed out, mostly with money that was taken out that now we could ill-afford to live without(not to mention the fact that they blame us for this mess we're in!). And yet, when someone comes along to say that I'm going to try to fix this mess, that I want to do something about it so that everyone benefits, and then actually does it, they want to be the first ones to shoot that person down and claim failure even before they've enacted their attempt at rescue. It's like telling a firefighter--'no, thank you, sir, I'd rather you didn't go in and save my burning house; I'm waiting for someone better to come along to do it.' Give me a f$&@%#' break!

I'm not looking for a sunny resolution. And I'm not even sure what getting back to normal is or if I even want that. As a black man, I still celebrate the fact that this nation justly and rightly elected a black man to be president, even though that celebration is tempered with everything that I just wrote above. My mother and older sister continue to tell me to 'stay encouraged', and, as I've said, that continues to become increasingly hard to do. But I will try and I will continue to fight and kick and scream my way through my life, for however much longer I'm given to do so. Becaue the alternative... is unthinkable. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Thought For The Week

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thought For The Week--Happy Valentine's Day

"On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway."

--Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Quotes For The Week

"Simplicity is always the secret to a profound truth, to doing things, to writing...Life is profound in its simplicity."

"The poem has some value, believe me. It keeps you from going totally mad."

--Charles Bukowski, Hollywood



"I will not take 'but' for an answer."

--Langston Hughes

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's Just Nice To Hear Someone Else Say It Better Than I Ever Could Have

"Our future President ran not as a "lefty peacenik", but as a bipartisan candidate willing to compromise for the greater good rather than drown in idealism. This will no doubt lead to cries of hypocrisy, cynicism and sellout, as the months and years, pass by those who have pinned their personal hopes to his lapel like a three dollar American flag pin.

He may disappoint you at times, I am certain he will disappoint me, but that is what happens when you work in a collaborative setting like Washington. This does not mean that you should not get mad when you are disappointed. On the contrary, get fired up, speak out, organize and be heard!

The onus is on all of US who really care, to not just hold him to his promises, but to help him to achieve them.

He may not become all the best attributes of every president rolled into one, but at a time when we need it the most he has offered us the light, the glimmer, the hope, the opportunity, that things could get even a little bit better (hell, a lot better!). It’s up to all 6 billion of us on this planet to seize this opportunity and to do everything we can do to make it real."

--Michael Franti, of Spearhead
Taken From His Pre-Inauguration Blog

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thought For The Week

"Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up."

--James Baldwin

Friday, January 23, 2009

Price of Silence

This is what's up! A music video that brings together 16 of the worlds top musicians—some of whom have fled oppressive regimes—in a rousing musical plea to guarantee human rights for all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Is Why We Elected Him President

Text of President Barack Obama's inaugural address on Tuesday, as delivered.

OBAMA: My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers ... our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Source: Associated Press

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Different Consideration Of The Man, Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this day, the national celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life, where so much continues to be made of his famous "I Have A Dream" speech from August 1963(as if this is the only speech he ever made publicly), I choose, once again, to consider some of his other words from other speeches he made, which prove, much to the possible chagrin of this nation's short-term memory, that he was more than just a dreamer, hoping that his children(indeed, all of us of a slightly darker persuasion) would one day be judged by the content of their character; but that he was also about addressing economic disparity and the injustice of war, here and abroad, respectively. Words which, more than 40 years later, and much more, I think, than the so-called famous speech, are still very relevant in these times and as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of these United States.







From "Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City.

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men [in the ghettos] I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked – and rightly so – what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

... Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.

... Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. ... I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. ... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.



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From the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 1964. King was 35 when he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.

This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.

"And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid."

I still believe that we shall overcome.



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From "Strength To Love," 1963.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.



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From "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963.

For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never."

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your 6-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a 5-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.



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From "Birth of a New Nation," April 7, 1957.

The road to freedom is a difficult, hard road. It always makes for temporary setbacks. And those people who tell you today that there is more tension in Montgomery than there has ever been are telling you right. Whenever you get out of Egypt, you always confront a little tension, you always confront a little temporary setback. If you didn't confront that you'd never get out.

You must remember that the tensionless period that we like to think of was the period when the Negro was complacently adjusted to segregation, discrimination, insult, and exploitation. And the period of tension is the period when the Negro has decided to rise up and break aloose from that. And this is the peace that we are seeking: not an old negative obnoxious peace which is merely the absence of tension, but a positive, lasting peace, which is the presence of brotherhood and justice. And it is never brought about without this temporary period of tension. The road to freedom is difficult.



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King's response to death threats, June 5, 1964.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.



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From "I Have Been to the Mountaintop," delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. The following day King, 39, was shot and killed by James Earl Ray.

Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. ...We aren't going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do, I've seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me round." Bull Connor next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.

That couldn't stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing "Over my head I see freedom in the air." And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take them off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in the jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thought For The Week

"You need to know that you can go somewhere. You're not just like grass growing on the street. You're like trees, you have roots, and they've done wonderful things, and you need to know that, and by knowing that, you see how outfitted you are for these times. And that you really owe it to those who went before so that you can add to them for those who are yet to come.

"You need to know that you are in a continuum, and if you understand that, you realize that you are worthwhile. This continuum would be broken without me."


--Maya Angelou

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Two Cents Doesn't Go As Far As It Used To

With the ending of an old year, there always comes the inevitable plethora(a word, by the way, that should never grow old or lose its usefulness) of best-of lists, highlighting what that particular individual critic or pundit felt was the most newsworthy or awe-inspiring or can't-miss event of the year. So, with that in mind, I thought I'd throw in my two cents, for whatever its worth, though I will limit myself to just what I considered the best of the year in terms of what I saw on television and in the movies; heard on the radio; and read, when I thankfully had the chance. Starting off with movies--

Unlike most people and film critics, I was unable to see a lot of movies this past year, unfortunately, much to, I feel, my detriment and chagrin, because I love films and to hear others raving about movies that I have yet to see or probably will never see, especially around awards time, kills me. But I did manage to see a few, and thankfully, they were well worth the time and money spent, especially the one I consider to be my favorite of the year just past:

The Dark Knight--is there any more that I can say about this film that hasn't already been said, ad infinitum? Even if you took the Batman out of the equation, it made for one of the best crime dramas in quite some time. The fact that it was a Batman film just gave it an extra dimension. And needless to say, but I will say it anyway, Heath Ledger's amazing transformation as the clown prince of crime, just put the film into a whole other stratosphere--dare I say, one of the defining acting performances of our time. Taken along with the previous film, "Batman Begins"(who says it's impossible for sequels to improve on or surpass the original?), is there any doubt or question that Christopher Nolan should be the de facto director for any subsequent stories in the Batman ouevre? To quote from an icon of another comic book entity, nuff said!

Runners-up:

Tropic Thunder--two words, Tom Cruise! Though not to be outdone, Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance as an obsessed Australian method actor who undergoes a radical, transformative skin surgery, is a standout performance, among many in his career, including one in another runner-up, I'll mention later.(Is it possible for him to qualify for an NAACP image award or would that be asking too much? Just a thought.)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall--it is possible to be sweet, thought-provoking, and raunchy at the same time. Not unlike "Knocked Up", and to a certain extent, "Superbad", before it, we were treated to three-dimensional characters who you could actually care about in realistically funny and touching situations.

WALL-E--This film just took animation to a whole nother level. I would like to rewatch this film, because I wasn't able to give it my fullest attention, but I was absolutely amazed by the lifelike animation and the sweet story between two very different robots. It also showed that you can speak volumes in your film without saying a word of dialogue--there are certainly some live-action films I've seen which could take a note or two from this film in that regard.

Kung-Fu Panda and Bolt--Two more animated films, which like the live-action "Tropic Thunder", and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", made me laugh harder than I've ever laughed in the movies in a long time. And the fact that they were animated says a lot, because too often, animated films are made to be too cutesy and are geared towards kids, without taking into account the adults who are inevitably going to be, and have to be, in the audience. And I can never say enough about an animated film that respects my intelligence while also tickling my funny bone--also an attribute that can be applied to the film, "WALL-E".

Miracle At St. Anna--This was an overlooked film by a lot of people and critics, and like a lot of Spike Lee's films, a very ambitious one, that seeks to provoke thought, as well as show a side of African-Americans we don't see in films. Especially in regards to those who fought in what's considered by American history(or at least Tom Brokaw), "the great war". There was a lot going on in this film, some of which I would put up against any foreign film; some of which reminded me of the scenes in Sicily depicted in "The Godfather"; a few things that may or not have worked(no film is perfect), but you can never accuse Spike of not at least trying to tell a good story, certainly one that needs to be told.

Milk--A lot of praise has been given towards this film and it's made a lot of best-of lists. I wouldn't say, personally, that it's one of the best films I've seen, though I wasn't disappointed in it and certainly not in the story it was trying to tell, of a little-known figure in our nation's history, one which, especially given the time we're living in, more people should expose themselves to. I will say, however, that the film, without question, is anchored by yet another transformative performance by an actor and that actor is Sean Penn, who as far as I can tell, and judging by the accolades he's been given thus far, I'm not alone in saying this, becomes the man he is honoring with said portrayal, San Francisco councilman Harvey Milk, the first gay man ever elected to public office. And if, nothing else, it's a reason to see this film.

Iron Man--Whereas "The Dark Knight" was dark and brooding, this movie was just fun and cool. And it certainly made a difference that it starred the aforementioned Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role. I look forward to more outings of the oh-so metallic one(though I think the studio is making a huge mistake in recasting Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle--no disrespect!)

Moving on to TV:

Dexter--Who knew a series about a serial killer who kills for good would be, in my opinion, one of the best shows ever put on television? This show just gets better and better with each episode. It's like watching a mini-movie every week, one which you don't want to end, and for which, it's hard to muster the patience for each subsequent episode. This is a show, which I don't think gets enough accolades, like say, a show like "The Sopranos", and that's a shame, because I feel, the writing is some of the best there is--featuring some of the best characterization there is, and not just including its main lead, played brilliantly by Michael C. Hall. An extra special dimension was added this past season by the introduction of a character, played by the always excellent and dependable Jimmy Smits. If you have not caught this show, which is an excellent reason to subscribe to Showtime, you are missing out on what is truly "must-see TV".

The series finale of The Shield--Is it possible for a cop show to become almost Shakespearean in its telling? After watching the nearly two hour end of yet another groundbreaking police drama, I would answer with an emphatic yes. This episode, more than any other, featured some of the best writing and acting I've ever seen on television. Heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat drama, with resolutions for each character that actually made sense and gave you a sense of closure, unlike some other series finales(at least one in particular, which shall go nameless here). Definitely one that should not only be remembered, but commended with full honors come Emmy time later this year.

True Blood--The title says it all. I wish there was as much furor over this particular vampire saga as there is for that other one(come on, do I really have to tell you which one?). Creator Alan Ball has added another winner to his already impressive resume, which includes his last HBO series, "Six Feet Under", and his Oscar-winning film, "American Beauty", one of my favorite movies. And as with both of those projects, we are treated to irrepressible human (and vampire, of course) characters who stick in the mind like some of the clothes that stick to the body because of the Louisiana humidity, which is the setting for this ongoing tale of vampires trying to assimilate into mainstream society. Kudos to an excellent cast, headed by the lovely Anna Paquin; but my high praise is reserved especially for newcomer Rutina Wesley as the irascible and very outspoken Tara--definitely one of my favorite characters from the past year.

Runners-up(and this, by the way, isn't to diminish their quality or my appreciation of these shows--there is no order here.):

30 Rock
The Office
Californication
Boston Legal(which also ended its series run in fine fashion--allowing us to say goodbye to one of the best onscreen TV couples in our time, Denny Crane and Alan Shore, wonderfully played by William Shatner and James Spader, respectively).
Chuck
Weeds
American Idol(thank God for David Cook giving this show some much needed fresh air!)
So You Think You Can Dance(hands down, the best dance show on the air right now, especially based on who the competition was and who actually won!)

And now we move to music, which I will keep brief, because as with movies, I missed out on a lot of album releases last year, but because of public radio(thank you, KCRW!), I was exposed to some really good music. I'll just list here two standout songs in my mind:

Another Way To Die by Alicia Keys and Jack White--My official kickass song of the year. It's the theme song from the latest James Bond release, "Quantum Of Solace", starring Daniel Craig(which, I'm sorry to say, is one of the films I missed out on from last year). I fell in love with this song well before the movie came out(again, thank you, KCRW!) and have it as my ringback tone for those who call me on my cell phone. This song just rocks and it certainly doesn't hurt to have the likes of Jack White, from the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, and the always amazing Alicia Keys. Again, nuff said!

And my favorite song of 2008:

Chasing Pavements by Adele--There must be something in the water over in Britain, at least as it pertains to women, because it's produced some wonderful female artists in the past few years--from Joss Stone to Amy Winehouse(yes, I said it! In spite of her troubles, she can still carry a tune. Ever heard of Billie Holliday or Etta James?!)to Duffy(who also had a great hit last year with the song, "Mercy"). And now Adele, who should well be on her way, at her young age, to be a major force in the music world. This song was just infectious from beginning to end and reminiscent of early 60's R&B, which is always a plus in my book, if it's pulled off well. And Adele certainly pulls it off well on this song--I can't wait to hear the rest of the album, which is simply titled, "19", for the age she was when this album was produced, as well as her subsequent work in the years to come.

And lastly, on to books:

Most of the books that I read last year were not released in the previous year, but I will list here two that stand out in mind as some of the best reading I've ever enjoyed this or any other year--

Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants by Kareem Abdul Jabbar--yes, that Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Aside from his very impressive record as an NBA Hall of Famer, he is also widely recognized as a writer and historian, particularly of the African-American experience. Both roles are brought to bear in this book, which he uses to chronicle the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's and 30's, and the many prominent members that came up out of that artistic and social explosion, as well as its effect on his life and career. Very readable and very necessary, for a period in our nation's history that should not be overlooked by any means.

Incognegro by Mat Johnson--Graphic novels seem to be the wave of the future or at least should be, especially in terms of literature. They certainly are when it comes to the movies, as evidenced by recent films like the upcoming "Watchmen", and "American Splendor", from a few years ago. This is one that should be added to that illustrious list and hopefully soon. As with the Jabbar book, it depicts, in a fictional, yet no less dramatic or poignant way, a chapter in our nation's history that should not be forgotten or brushed aside or swept under the rug--the epidemic of lynchings that were commonplace throughout much of the South during the latter part of the slavery era on past the turn of the century and well into, as recently as the 60's. It also deals with the very real phenomenon of those in the African-American community who accomplished what is called "passing", which many of those of the lighter persuasion partook of, some of whom for the benefit of the race in order to bring to light some of the horrors of said lynchings and other atrocities that were being perpetuated on blacks of this time. The central story of this novel revolves around such an individual, who as a reporter, is able to go undercover(incognegro, if you will, hence the title), in order to record the exploits of his findings. It is very possible to be swept away and into a story depicted in this graphic art form, especially with the benefit of brilliant illustration, which is why comics are still with us, and for that reason alone, should be, in my opinion, considered no less a part of literature than any traditional novel. Hopefully, you'll get to check this one out, especially if, and I think it's a strong possibility, this one gets picked from the pile of destined-to-be produced films.

And that, as they say, is a wrap. Here's hoping 2009 produces more quality and noteworthy artistic expressions, especially now with an artistic minded president taking up residence in the White House. If you need reminding, Marvel has already celebrated this fact in one of their recent issues of "The Amazing Spiderman", with a cover story featuring our president-elect. I also just saw recently Will-I-Am's latest video of his song, "It's A Brand New Day", which celebrates the recent victory. I'm hoping, at the risk of tooting my own horn, that my poem, "Barack Means Blessed", gets some momentum in the ether as well. On that note, nuff said!!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Lifetime Resolutions(A Work-In-Progress)--A Poem

In a time of making resolutions for the new year(and I, for one, am glad the old one has passed, in spite of a historical presidential election, and in light of the worst economic crisis since probably the Great Depression), I submit the following poem, originally written several years ago, but one which I believe still applies in my life, and maybe even yours. I hope with the onset of a new and hopefully very different administration, with tough challenges ahead for all of us in this coming year and, with that, hopefully new opportunities for growth and creative possibilities, this will be a year that's a damn sight better than the one we've just said goodbye to.




Lifetime Resolutions (A Work-In-Progress)


Resolved:
To understand that which is still not clear to me.
Resolved:
To live the questions that will not be answered.
Resolved:
To dance to the music that plagues my soul.
Resolved:
To speak the bitter, unspeakable truth.
Resolved:
To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.
Resolved:
To hear the whispers of a sometimes silent God.
Resolved:
To feel the unavoidable, painful embrace of humanness.
Resolved:
To touch the inner/outer extremities of my soul lover.
Resolved:
To know the why of the rage inside.
Resolved:
To quench the insatiable thirst of my heart and soul.
Resolved:
To walk a mile, maybe more, in my brother’s shoes.
Resolved:
To love beyond the limitations of my imagination.
Resolved:
To stand for something other than the reason to sit still no longer.
Resolved:
To read the words of those who probably know more than I do.
Resolved:
To write an end to this still-evolving poem.


© Joseph Powell