Friday, November 30, 2012

November salon 12b

A small but select group of poets participated in last nights salon 12b. From the former poet laureate of Antwerp, Peter Holvoet-Hanssen, to poet Rudy Witsy who with Tony Rombouts presented their latest book 'Duo', from  German poet, Fred Schywek to American busker, singer songwriter Ken Post performing with Ingeborg a surprising dialog between Anaïs Nin and Jack Kerouac. Beautiful anti war texts were read by Willem Persoon. A video by swoon was also much enjoyed. Poetry by Rose Vandewalle was read from a current translation project. Roger Nupie opened the night with some thought provoking poems. Great stuff all of it. The audience was attentive, enjoyed the cake by Rose, the cheese pie by Hakata and the goulash soup by Fred. Uncyia from the Leonard Peltier chapter brought some postcards to be signed for his release. Thus beauty and commitment went hand in hand during the whole evening.

(Kleine Nachtmusik)

The room
suddenly tilts and turns        
caches me
in its grabby arms
its hands ablaze with longing
arouse me
with each of its fiery tongues
envelops me transports me

the room
scorching breath
whirlpool and spiral
the room
oh it spins and stalls
soon in higher gear
drags me down in its fall
ends in a plunge
a prodigious shivering plunge

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cruel Beauty - Mieke De Loof


MiekeDe Loof writes historical crime novels. The first one I read was ‘Duivels offer’ in 2004 situated in the Vienna of 1913. For this she was awarded the Hercule Poirot Prize. The latest novel Cruel Beauty plays in 1914 in Vienna's learned and moneyed circles filled with paintings, psychiatry, sacred texts and young girls and a predator on the prowl. It a sequel in a series which eventually will consist of seven books. The main characters Jesuit and spy Ignatz and his friend Elisabeth return. The city Vienna itself still is a marvelous backdrop creating atmosphere and giving a chance to inject a few historic or urbane facts into the story. In this book there is a serial killer on the loose. The murders are staged as paintings by Egon Schiele who is a minor yet very present character through which art and death become interwoven. I read the book in one day, intrigued and charmed. For a word nut it is also great to learn a new Dutch word ‘Altaardwaal’ the cloth surrounding the altar. Well, no I am not going to tell you  the story, just if you read Dutch: go get the book snuggle up on a cold night and you will have a great time. Mieke does great work.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Johan de Boose interviews Marleen de Crée

A chill, a touch of blue and two days gone by. Thursday noon in the Permeke library in Antwerp, a captivating author in his own right Johan de Boose and Marleen de Crée held a very interesting conversation. I have known Marleen's work since over 30 years and the talent of the interviewer dug out some interesting information and insights new to me. It must be challenging and wonderful to be interviewed by someone who knows "the metier", the necessary skills as well as the interviewee. Then the answers can open new perspectives. When one listens to Marleen it all seems so logical and as it is supposed to be. This isn't quite the right formulation since she is also strong willed and has an original mind of her own. All this packed in the beauty of her sonnets and rondeau's. She perverts, changes these traditional forms: strange punctuation, no rhymes, no open lines... You name it, she has done it. I now also know how the musicality of her verses came about. She went to a good boarding school where they had a choir. She had a very high soprano voice and so she sang in the choir. Their school won most contest because of this soprano voice. At home too there was a lot of singing, and many books. She started reading the books on the top shelf and worked her way through all the books. One could say that was her classical period. She adores Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu and all the poetry by Rainer Marie Rilke. She would joyfully reread them, but so little time, so many books to read and write. Here you find 3 wonderful video-poems made with Marleen's poems, a happy collaboration with Swoon Bildos who is invited to many Video festivals to showcase his work.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No more bombing of civilians

My grandfather collected stamps: big books with old stamps, but also a smaller one with stamps emitted by the United Nations. So I knew about Palestine and Israel when I was about seven years old. I have always worked for peace, believing in negotiations. A few days ago Rabbi Alissa Wise remarked that the current assault on Gaza is being paid for by the blank check from the US government to the Israeli military. So basically all US citizens pay for bombing citizens in Gaza. Bombing citizens who ever does it morally wrong. Unacceptable. It is also an infringement on human rights of the civilian victims. So no more tax dollars for consistently violating human rights. Gaza has one and half million people living on a very small area: It is probably the largest open air prison, about 140 square miles. There are regular food shortages, people loose hope, children are stressed and hungry. 
Some 10% of children under five in the Gaza Strip have had their growth stunted due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition. "Stunting (chronic malnutrition) is not improving and may be deteriorating," concluded the World Health Organisation in May of this year. For those of you who understand German I post an interview with Gunter Grass.
So: Please no more killing of children. A Flander's Pen colleague took too many pictures of these gruesome after the first attack. I only post one. One kid who might survive in that first night 25 children died or were severely wounded.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Den Hopsack

The theme of the day was Coffee and Cinnamon. You have to realize that in Dutch this is a nice alliteration 'Koffie en Kaneel' It was a nice brunch and the eight poets reading got it as a reward. Of course Ericson Accosta, an author in prison in the Philippines, without even a charge as a Pen Writers in Prison action.
I don't have good pictures of the poets reading, but there was a nice mix of subjects and styles.
Per usual there is music to relax in between the readings or performances. This time it was Scarabee on violin and cello, two young performers learning to perform for an audience. Of course it is also about the written word and here you see a few of the books on offer. As always a warm and kind mix of people, known and totally unknown poets performed and all were listened to. A nice morning and I am lucky enough to have performed several times in the course of their 40 years of poetry readings. Thanks Den Hopsack! Thanks to the invisible workers!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Messages from Newtopia

 Last night was wonderful, was poweerful: authors living in Belgium and abroad shared their thoughts and writings on human rights and how the universal declaration of human rights could be improved. First there was music, spoken word, rapped with African instruments. They also had the last word. One author, journalist Fatena Al-Ghorra was not present since the terrible events in Gaza unfolded she went home to witness the situation.
Here from left to right Chris De Stoop, reading a fictional letter to Amnesty international about emotional rights. Isn't the family the most dangerous place on earth? Isn't emotional coldness by parents something that kills one souls and maims for life? Next is Dejan Anastaijevic who picked up on one of my pet peeves: Freedom of speech, as used by a finish mobil phone producer, perverting the idea of content to profit. Free movement as picked up by an American Car maker... Naema Tahir read in Dutch from her book Bruid van de dood. The choice of the girl not to accept an arranged, read forced marriage, and instead joining the army in Pakistan...
Here you see David Van Reybrouck interviewing, talking with Tahar Ben Jelloun: a wise man, thoughtful and clear. With his book L'étincelle he is a Moroccan voice about the Arab Spring and its evolution. There was a beautiful, very slow Videopoem about a wall by Moroccan  Hamza Alloubi one just sees the light change and hears the text. A great evening with many Pen colleagues present, as always ready to defend freedom of speech and to help the authors who are in danger because of using this fundamental right. Standing in the blackest night on a forlorn platform of a train station, a bittersweet melancholy lingered and ended up strengthening my commitment.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My friend Vicky - out West

She lived her life the way it was supposed to be. Like so many of us. A husband, children... Some of it good, bad times too. Like so many of us. She changed, made mistakes, missed the right or left turn. Yet she became alive and kept looking for whom, for what?
What is what she found first, deep in mud ... Then she found whom, whom she could dare and share with. Thus we met, thus she left, following her road with heart.
Godspeed Vicky... Still moving on and on.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Drones - Text from Amnesty USA

Today I bring the thoughtful text of Amnesty USA concerning drones, a subject which has since the beginning bothered me. It seems clean and clear but it kills. Remember: Thou shallt not kill.
Amnesty USA's text:
I am writing to urge you to take immediate steps to bring the United States government's policies on the use of armed drones, and other such "targeted killings" or "signature strikes", in line with US obligations under international human rights law and, in the very limited circumstances where it also applies, international humanitarian law.
What has already been publicly revealed about these policies and practices is enough to conclude that the current US approach is unlawful, violating the fundamental human right of anyone, wherever in the world they may be found, not to be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. However, it is clear that many details about the legal and factual underpinnings for both the policies and for particular killings are still being kept secret. This would include the alleged 2010 classified Department of Justice (Office of Legal Counsel) memorandum reported to give the legal justification for the killing of US citizens without trial in certain circumstances, such as occurred in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September 2011.
We in the public may not yet know all the individual names or identities of the people who the US government has killed under these policies, but we do know some things more generally about them. We know that among those killed were some who were essentially accused in secret of crimes or other wrongdoing but in respect of whom no efforts were made to bring them to justice in a court of law. We know that there were others about whom the government had no specific information but who may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We know that among those killed have been men of different ages, women, and children. We also know that every one of the people the government has killed, whoever they were and whatever they may have been believed to have done, had the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. International human rights standards define what is and is not an arbitrary deprivation of life. Outside of specific recognized zones of armed conflict, states must comply with law enforcement standards. The integrity of the international system for protection of human rights depends in no small part on states respecting the fundamental principle that the more permissive targeting rules under the laws of war apply only within such zones of armed conflict.
While I recognize that some of the killings in question, if conducted in the context of specific recognized zones of armed conflict may not be in violation of international human rights or international humanitarian law, current US policies appear also to permit extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law, virtually anywhere in the world. Among the particular concerns of Amnesty International are:
- the government's continued reliance on a "global war" legal theory that treats the entire world as a battlefield between the USA and armed groups, on which lethal force may potentially be used virtually anywhere at any time without regard to human rights standards;
- the administration's invocation of the right to use force in self-defence to justify the deliberate killing of virtually anyone suspected of involvement of any kind in relation to a range of armed groups and/or terrorism against the USA, particularly through the adoption of a radical re-interpretation of the concept of "imminence";
- reports that a "guilty until proven innocent" approach is taken to military-age males who are killed by a strike, even if there is no specific evidence that they were directly participating in hostilities in a specific armed conflict;
- the fact that key factual and legal details of the killing programme remain shrouded in secrecy.

These aspects of US policy and practice are not only of concern in their own right: they also weaken the credibility of the USA as an advocate for respect for human rights by other states; they set dangerous precedents that other states may exploit to avoid responsibility for their own unlawful killings; and if unchecked there is a real risk that the US "global war" doctrine will further corrode the foundations of the international framework for protection of human rights. There has also been widespread speculation that current US policies and practices with respect to such killings may inadvertently be building support for the very armed groups and terror attacks that US officials say provide its justification.

I call on you to

- Ensure that the US refrains from all unlawful use of lethal force, including against individuals suspected of terrorism.
- Ensure maximum effort by the US, in cooperation with other states, to ensure that those responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA, and for planning or carrying out similar such attacks anywhere in the world, are brought to justice for their crimes in fair and public trials without recourse to the death penalty.
- Disclose further legal and factual details about US policy and practices for so-called 'targeted killings', 'signature strikes', and "Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes", including the alleged 2010 classified Department of Justice (Office of Legal Counsel) memorandum reported to give the legal justification for the killing of US citizens without trial in certain circumstances, such as occurred in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September 2011.
- End claims that the USA is authorized by international law to use lethal force anywhere in the world under the theory that it is involved in a 'global war' against al-Qa'ida and other armed groups and individuals.
- Recognize the application of international human rights law to all US counter-terrorism operations including those outside US territory.
- Bring US policies and practices on the use of lethal force in counter-terrorism operations in line with the USA's international human rights obligations, particularly, by:
- Ensuring that any use of lethal force outside of specific recognized zones of armed conflict complies fully with the USA's obligations under international human rights law, including by limiting the use of force in accordance with international human rights standards for the use of force in law enforcement;
 - Ensuring that any use of lethal force within a specific recognized zone of armed conflict complies fully with the USA's obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, including by recognizing and respecting the rule that if there is doubt as to whether a person is a civilian, the person is to be considered a civilian.
- Ensuring independent and impartial investigations in all cases of alleged extrajudicial executions or other unlawful killings, respect for the rights of family members of those killed, and effective redress and remedy where killings are found to have been unlawful.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pen Flanders-writers in prison committee

A small but dedicated group from WIPC-Flanders gathered last night to discuss the situation of writers who are in prison for exercising their right to free speech and freedom of expression. World politics obviously influence what the causes and issues are. For instance, before the bloody civil war in Syria, we would receive regularly rapid action requests. But since there are no officials one can really talk to or send a card or letter to, we have received no requests at all. On the other hand: Mexico, Russia and Belarus, China, Turkye, Cameroon will keep us busy enough. Sadly. The subject of Internet freedom also arose: Each person has the right to search the net for information or to publish on the net. Network providers who squeal to the authorities (like in China where you cannot use the word Tibet in a post) should adhere to the code of ethics of the net. Next year May there will be the International WIPC conference in Krakow: a good time to reconnect and get to know people in trouble, learn how other chapters work and be recharged for enthousiastic work. There is however a relatively new element to deal with: Chilling. An author is threatened by a corporation, a group not to publish or else... Usually the threat is to one's livelihood or one's family. it can also be a barrage of hate mail, like happened to one of our members. As my brother wrote in his last letter, our father often pointed out: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

Thursday, November 8, 2012

birds in the head - rose vandewalle

For those among you who read also Dutch I need to write about 'vogels in het hoofd' by Rose Vandewalle. This is a moving, insightful, forgiving and understanding set of 3 short pieces, published in the series 'Art is free and cannot be paid' by De Dodopers, Eindhoven, The Netherlands. This is the Indian summer issue October 2012. The well chosen painting 'Chinese statecircus" by Eline Rausenberger expresses well the multitudes of feelings and absurdities a demented person might feel or the family member who with a watchful eye analyses, processes and creates beauty out of a dire situation.
Her texts are the result of yearlong lived experiences and and thoughtful analyses of what is happening on a deeper level. Her humanity leads her to understanding the plight of the demented mothers and fathers in the home as well as the pressure on the underpaid and overworked staff. She has helped me understand situations on an emotional and intellectual level and thus helping me deal with my mothers dementia.
De Dodopers in an initiative of Bert Jans, one of the publishers of Fingerprint, Eindhoven and aims to make the best possible small books without having to make a profit. They call it doing 'useless' things because the goal is not profit but beauty and enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four more years: elections matter!

Being female, mixed background, pro-choice, for GLBT equal rights, convinced that climate change is a danger to the world and worrying about the wars that are still raging, I am glad Barack Obama carried this election. Most people don't vote their interest but their values, which include for me caring, accepting diversity (race, gender, age, migrant groups...), the environment, including energy issues, and social justice, healthcare. So I count myself as part of the democratic coalition which has better visions for our possible futures and did vote my values. I look forward to the President bringing home the troops from Afghanistan so that thee are no more foreign wars to be fought and that we can concentrate on rebuilding what is broken in the USA and be peacemakers and bridge builders in the world. That is my dream and hope for the country: freedom and dignity for all, generous and tolerant, the most diverse nation of the world. Let's all keep reaching.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cinema Inch'Allah

There are good day’s to be taken out of one’s own world and to be introduced to another. On such a day an invitation  from my daughter to join her and go and view a documentary by Vincent  Coen  & Guillaume Vandenberghe was welcome, also because mu curiosity was peaked by the title of the documentary. The film team followed over a couple of years four Belgo-Moroccan filmmakers living in Brussels. They started as teenagers with a small handheld camera, filching it every time the father, rightful owner of it, wasn’t around. In the course of the documentaries we see the evolution in the camera’s they acquired. It is a generous movie: we gain an insight in the otherwise closed world of Moroccan families. We see the difference in treatment of a daughter and the wife of the same man. We see the longing of a mother to become a grandma and admonishing her son the get on with it. Doing it in a a formalized way so that it looks almost like she acted her request with typical ways of moving and of looking. We also see Brussels, to many Flemish people an extraneous entity from where the country is governed and where the royal family lives. We also witness the personal crises of Farid: from the bad relationship with his family when filming and starting to question whether it is ‘halal’ to film at all since Islam forbids the portrayal of anything living. So he radicalizes and this is a bit too prominent in the documentary. For instance the success of the actor Reda is all but lost. The four friends have several films under their belt, projecting their fears and hopes. The wonderful thing is that they show the prejudices which are held against the Moroccan community and by making their films, they claim the right to define themselves.Worth while!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

American elections - I voted early and you?

Being an ex-pat I voted early from abroad and yes I voted for Obama. I must admit it was with a bit less of enthusiasm than the first time. I have signed many petitions to the president, some of which he has taken on board, others not. My main reason to vote for him is that we share more of a caring approach, a world view for society than I will ever share with the other candidate. Climate change is at least acknowledged and thought about. The fact that in Arizona reproductive rights for women are not in the health insurance package but Viagra is, says something about the other party. Being a woman, the only to vote for me is Obama. With democrats we have the chance that we can autonomously decide about reproductive issues without an employer being able to influence what is included in one's health insurance. That is a personal issue and should not be taken away from women. I also thank the president for standing for GLTB rights. My beef with Obama is that, although less of a hawk than his opponent, although he has ended the Iraq war, for which I am grateful, he still uses drones and signs for each attack with them. And of course capital punishment in my heart, mind and soul is wrong. Not granting presidential pardons, commuting the sentences of people on death row is a lost opportunity. Yet I am deeply convinced that Obama is better for the world and the USA and that better options for good possible futures for all might be open.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Amour - Michael Haneke

Amour was in the Cannes competition of 2012. My film companion José discovered it in the Cartoons and invited me to go and see it. It is a honest, moving treatment of aging, illness and death. George and Anne are two retired music teachers living in Paris. One day Anne suffers a stroke which leaves her paralyzed on one side. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play the intimate and terrifying process of aging and decline. The vivacious, loving and tender relationship from the beginning is under pressure when Anne looses more and more of herself in a always deeper dementia. What is left of us in the end? What dignity, what control? How to love and live through that. I was very moved when Anne refuses to eat or drink. I saw a while ago the same facial expression in my mother's face. The strain on George of caring for Anne is insupportable, yet he promised never to put her in a hospital or home. The relationship with their daughter Eva who lives abroad gets very strained. Eva is performed by Isabelle Huppert .The performance of Trintignant and Riva. The setting is a beautiful book lined apartment in Paris where the world seems beautiful and safe. The fun loving gentleness between the protagonists at the beginning of the film is sublime, making the grief to follow harder. I won't tell the plot. Just if you have a chance go and see the movie.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Unintended consequences

For while I wrote monthly a piece for the eight page Chronicle. Often I would deal with strange differences between the USA and Europe. I wrote my 500 words one a month before I left for an other stay at the 'gas station' dealing with the different views about guns and Uzi's and the high tech bow and arrows a friend had so he could hunt without a permit. Anyway, the conclusion ran something along the following line: seen I had not been raised in a gun culture that I didn't own neither a gun, a revolver nor a rifle and since I felt I would be a danger to myself if I would try to use one I would probably be shot with my own gun. Being on my own however I did not want to give the impression that I was totally defenseless. The people knew my two dogs, so I could invoke them for the job. And I remembered that upon leaving the last time, being halfway through the process of adding a kitchen to my place that I had left a crowbar next to the bed. So my last line was just that: But I have a crowbar next to the bed. I return and we muddle on doing the kitchen. In such cases all the neighbors come by and give their opinion and good advice. So one of neighbors after the inspection of the going-ons called me over and said: I wouldn't if I were you use the crow bar, you could crack someone's skull with that. Go get yourself a baseball bat. That will hurt the other person less.