Song of the Grave (The Samizdat experiment poem #1)

So, I’ve started my Patreon journal experiment in political poetry/charity. If you want to know all the details re: THE MANIFESTO and THE ACTION PLAN, then direct your attention to this link: The Samizdat. For $1 a poem (up to four a month), you’ll be supporting both poetry and politics–half of the money goes to the poet, half to a charity of their choice.

Since a significant part of this experiment is writing poetry with a political bent, and politics requires action, I will be spreading my poems as far and as wide as I am able (other contributors to The Samizdat will vary in this). And so here is the first result of the experiment, a poem inspired by Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago about the risks of letting others be targeted by the government (or even adjusting the sights of those with the weapons).

I’ve been rereading Solzhenitsyn’s giant history/act-of-recovery/commentary because it epitomizes the fear of what the U.S. might become, while also speaking to my own reluctance to get involved, my own weakness when it comes to standing up. I’ll be writing more about my experience rereading him soon, but for now you just get this poem.

Song of the Grave

(Oh, do not dig a grave for someone else!)
~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

The mouth opens. Worms and roots line its cheeks.
Its teeth are shovel blades. The moisture-blooded soil

refuses to let go, gnawing on boot soles. Skin can be leather, too,
something tough to hold the organs in, something numb to feeling.

We are born into being alone, live alone, die alone, if lucky,
rest alone in our marked graves. If not, we become landscape.

Either way, people say there’s a paradise in that us-shaped space
we’re destined to fill. Since we’re all going to the same place,

does it matter how soon we get there? Only dig the grave
you’re prepared to climb into. Only open the mouth

you’re ready to speak from. The suited men fill their palms with teeth.
They fill the mouths with dirt. They fill the graves with voices.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Samizdat

Hey! My name is Andrew Kozma, and if you are reading this blog post, you probably know who I am, or who I have been, or who I wish to be. Namely, a writer, a poet, a novelist.

Apologies for the forced cheer. Sometimes forced cheer is all you can manage, and forced cheer is better than no cheer. (It is not. -Ed.)

I’m writing this because I’m starting on a scary and exciting new project called The Samizdat, and I want you to come along with me on this journey. The project: A blog/journal/thing of political poems by me and other guest poets, where the money raised (through Patreon) will be split between the poet and charity.

In some ways, I don’t want to be writing this. The horrors that have happened in the country over the past months/year–well, I just want them to go away. I want the Drumpf to stop being Drumpf-like. I want people to be safe, for them to be able to enter and leave the country as they wish, for mothers not to be deported away from their daughters and lovers, for treaties with Native Americans and foreign powers to be honored. I want the country I love to stop descending into madness.

And yet, what I’ve realized is that there are people who have been living in this state of mind for their entire lives. The Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American nations standing with NoDAPL, this struggle is nothing new to them. All of those who started Black Lives Matter did so because of the prejudice and hate they’ve been dealing with for decades. Even if Drumpf and his crew were gone tomorrow, so many struggles would remain and would need to be fought against.

That’s what I want The Samizdat to be: a method of using that art (and the joy/hope/awareness it engenders) to make the world a better place. Below is all the information you’ll find on the Patreon page. There is no poem up yet; since the goal is to use poetry to raise money for both artists and charity, it doesn’t seem to make sense to publish any poem until there’s money to be distributed. So I’m putting out this call and will be publishing the first poem to The Samizdat next Friday. If you want to support artists and political art and various charitable causes (needed even more now that the federal and state governments are cutting funding for arts and social welfare programs), then join me here: The Samizdat.

THE MANIFESTO

All art is political.

In some cultures and in some circumstances, this is more apparent. Writers in China and Saudi Arabia have been imprisoned for their words and, in many cases, for the very act of writing something not approved by the government. In the United States, for example, the McCarthy era destroyed careers for artists who spoke out against the Communist witch hunt of the time.

And it’s possible that we are heading towards such a crisis again.

In the USSR, during the long totalitarian rule of that country, people were born into oppression and died in repression. Anything a citizen said could be and would be used against them. Typewriters were registered and marked each with an individual fingerprint so that the authorities could discover who had written any seditious material. In this climate, writing anything was a risk, and a political act.

Russian writers and philosophers and critics who wanted to flout government censorship wrote their pieces in secret and passed what they’d written to others in secret. Those others took on the obligation of retyping what they’d received or copying it out by hand and sending their new copies onward to other readers. Reading these secretly-shared, non-government-approved, and therefore subversive texts was dangerous. Being in possession of them was a crime.

This is the spirit I’m trying to recreate with The Samizdat, writing and publishing and distributing political poetry that talks to and around and within what is going on in the world today. Poetry is not just food for the soul, it is fuel for revolution. It is a lens that changes the way you perceive the world and your place in it.

THE ACTION PLAN

The Samizdat promises to deliver political poems directly to you, up to four times a month. The first poem of every month will be mine–the other three will be guest poets. The line up so far includes Sasha West and Joshua Gottlieb-Miller.

Because politics is not just about words but also about actions, half of your pledge will go towards a charity of the contributing poet’s choice (the pledge being the total minus Patreon’s fees), the possible charities listed in that poet’s bio. Afterwards, I will post how much money was raised and where it went. My goal here is to be as transparent as possible in supporting poetry and those causes we, as a community, believe in.

The Samizdat has two baselines of support. The first is a one-dollar pledge that gets you the poem and access to any extras posted through the Patreon. The second is a twenty-dollar pledge which will get you a poem directly mailed to you. Because of the way Patreon works, you can change your pledge level at any time so that if you want mailed copies of only those poets you prefer, that will be easy to arrange.

We are entering a world where art and dissent are under attack. Here is your chance to support both.

 

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Women’s March

  1. The crowd was unbelievable. And simply because I’m a person limited to a person’s POV (and relatively short, at that) I couldn’t see the end to us, all of the women and men and others gathered in DC to march in protest and solidarity. I’d jump and see an ocean of faces and signs, pussy hats and uncovered heads, of all different colors. Marchers perched in the winter-shorn trees like birds. Stood on buses. Held signs up for all to see until their arms burned. When one voice rose, dozens of others joined around her. Thousands of voices rose.
  1. We rode a bus from Houston, and a bus back from Houston, a day on the bus spent either way. We stopped for fuel of both the body and the bus. We talked to cashiers who said they feared the world was going to be set on fire by Trump. If so, we are the fire. We need to be that fire.
  1. Outside DC, our bus passed other buses. The sidewalks were full of pink hats and wide, brightly-colored signs. A tiding of magpies. A force of women.
  1. The Metro stations were full. Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands funneling through to the center of DC, to spread out and occupy the seat of power of our nation.
  1. Of many nations. Of many states. Of many counties and parishes. Of many cities.

  1. The Metro opened earlier than normal. There were more trains added for the day. Our train was full when we entered at the last stop on the Blue Line. Every stop, more pink hats, more signs, more people added. We were pushed in until no more could be pushed, until we were one person. One body moved and the rest swayed. One breathed, and we all breathed. Our hearts pumped. Our hearts beat.
  1. The speaker said, “People.” We chanted, “Power.”
  1. People. Power.
  1. Power. The single voice resounded through the city. The sound was physical. It secured us to the ground, rooted us in the earth. It lifted us up. Our voice could lift up those government buildings around us, open the doings inside to the glare of the sun, and let us in to take our rightful place.
  1. If nothing else, I know because we know that we are not alone because I was there and I saw you and you saw me and we saw each other.
  1. We saw each other.
  1. We were there to march. There were too many people to march. We marched in place. We chanted and held our signs high and moved inches, moved a foot at a time, slowly through the crowd of us. Others found their way to march. A crowd of thousands filled the blocks along Pennsylvania and were turned back by a security gate, but circled, a constant stream of protest and people and songs.
  1. Our signs were our voices when our voices were silent. We strung them into fences and through metal bars so our voices would speak without us. We laid them at the feet of the Trump hotel, a memorial for everyone who was there, a dialogue between those that have power and those elected to represent us.

 

  1. A voice unanswered is still a voice.
  1. A voice answered is still a voice.

16. A voice cannot stop voicing.

Posted in Living | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Nostalgia I Never Had: William Sleator vs. Roger Zelazny and Nicholas Fisk

I really like William Sleator (his books are a nostalgia I had, specifically INTERSTELLAR PIG and THE BOY WHO REVERSED HIMSELF). He has books which are amazing, such as HOUSE OF STAIRS and THE LAST UNIVERSE, and books which are not, like TEST. However, his best books are horrifying and utterly raw, with none of the characters being able to hide behind a lack of self-knowledge. The teens in his novels are presented in a stark light that shows all their strengths and flaws, and he lets them hang themselves with their own thoughts and words.

Once in an article about Sleator, I found him compared to Nicholas Fisk, a British science-fiction who, like Sleator, also mainly wrote for children. So I picked up A RAG, A BONE AND A HANK OF HAIR (a title that conveniently leaves out the Oxford comma, which is ironic? Maybe? Should I be quiet now?). The second book in the photo above is by Roger Zelazny, one of my favorite writers, and an author who I never knew wrote books for children. The closest I’d come before was A NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER, which was a light book, more of a romp than an adventure, but still clearly in the adult category.

(Now is the point to say that I’m not sure what that means in reference to myself and my own reading since I’ve been into Zelazny since early High School, if not Intermediate School, and so he was, in effect, my YA.)

I’ll take on Zelazny first because reading this book was like reading Sleator’s TEST, except that I was able to finish it. A DARK TRAVELING reads as a book written to a young audience by a writer who thinks this is what a young audience wants to read. The plot is bare bones thin, the characters uncomplicated, the struggles slight, and the writing–which Zelazny often makes beautiful and haunting–is flat, dead on the page. I can’t even give you a summary of the plot here because it vanished so completely from my mind after I finished. I mean, it involved witches, werewolves, aliens, multiple worlds, mechanical golems, all of it hodgepodged together in a way that provided no coherence, mainly because there was no room to build that coherence. In 151 large-font pages you can’t do much world-building, and Zelazny doesn’t, instead relying on ideas somewhat explored in the AMBER series (i.e., in a multi-verse everything exists somewhere). Zelazny is one of the writers I want to build a complete collection for, but I won’t be adding this to that collection.

It’s disappointing to be disappointed, especially with a writer I know and love (the work, I mean, as I have no idea what Zelazny the man was like). It’s an entirely different experience to be disappointed by a book you have little-to-no expectations for. A RAG, A BONE AND A HANK OF HAIR falls on this line with a boy tasked with infiltrating a group of people recreated from before civilization ended (i.e., now, apparently) who are being studied by scientists for…reasons. The scientists used science to reconstruct these people from organic refuse they found in the ruins, which somehow also recreated the kind of people they were and how they lived at the time.

Which is…whatever. Internal hand-waving aside, I don’t really care much about science in books as long as it’s internally consistent with the story. I’ll take this as science fantasy and be fine with it–and I am fine with it. Like Sleator, Fisk’s story is brutally dark and unapologetic in how it depicts people, especially the main character. To my mind, the world depicted is a little thin, but that makes it more like a dream than a literal accounting, more a nightmare mood piece than a beware-this-could-happen.

For whatever reason, I just didn’t fall for Fisk’s voice here. It’s good writing (unlike, I have to say it, Zelazny’s book) but maybe it’s too clinical for me? One aspect of Sleator’s writing is that he puts you in the head of his characters completely, not thinking their thoughts, but witnessing those thoughts and their actions from inside their bodies and minds, so you can’t help but see them as hopeful, petty, brave, and flawed.

In these books, both Zelazny and Fisk keep the reader at a distance, which means it’s hard to create empathy with the characters as real people. And now, more than ever, we need Sleator’s kind of empathy as practice for the real-life necessity and moral responsibility of seeing other people as real people. Lives depend on it.

*Really, if nothing else, you should read HOUSE OF STAIRS. Here’s a link. Go buy.

Posted in Reading | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Analog March 1975

analog-march-1975

This is one of those several months after the facts book reviews, so if it sounds like a dream being recounted in a dream, that’s why.

“Jill the Giant-Killer” by William Tuning and Ewing Edgar: Most noticeable here are the fact of the scientist heroine overcoming sexism both in the larger culture and in scientific circles in particular in order to achieve her dream of stopping tornadoes through using tactical missile strikes  delivered by fighter planes. Also noticeable, how simply and acutely boring this story is. It epitomizes all the strikes against Hard SF, especially in the use of technical specifications as though they are innately interesting and flat, nearly dead language.

“Building Block” by Sonya Dorman: This story, compared to the last, is actually quite fascinating even if both are relying on very little action in the story themselves. Here, though, character is key. Arachne is a designer of space homes, expensive but highly desired homes in low orbit around the planet, and she’s suffering a creative block. The story simply follows her as she attempts to overcome that block, and, eventually, almost by accident she does. Despite not much happening in the story, it held my interest because Arachne is fascinating.

“Child of All Ages” by P. J. Plauger: Another fascinating story, which made me feel like I was winning with this issue (as opposed to the others, which provided mostly stories to slog through, up to my ankles in it–then again, “Jill the Giant-Killer” took up a third of this issue and was the slog to beat all slogs, so sloggy I’m still scraping slog off my shoes). Here is a child who is immortal, but is immortal always as a child. She can die. She can be studied by science, and dissected to see what makes her tick, and so she continually needs to find a new family to protect her, to adopt her as their child, until they–as they always do–become scared by the fact that she doesn’t age. It’s a sad story, one embedded with loneliness, but worth the read.

“Lifeboat” (part 2 of 3) by Gordon R. Dickson and Harry Harrison: Spoiler: Our main character did it. He exploded the bomb that destroyed the ship that trapped him and all the survivors on the titular lifeboat. Other than that revelation, the story continues with its sexism and classism and the insistence that we identify with the main character even when he’s a complete tool. I will not, sir. I will not.

“Mail Supremacy” by Hayford Peirce: A joke story using the RETURN TO SENDER response from the post office to kickstart interstellar communication and bring humanity into galactic society. It’s three pages longer than it needs to be, at three pages.

Posted in Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Unpulped #12: Ground Zero Man by Bob Shaw

ground-zero-man

Here I am attempting to be immediate in my book-talking again, because my default is to finish a book or a magazine or a game or a movie and want to talk about it immediately, but then end up writing about it weeks if not months later. Luckily, my memory is decent. Luckierly, I also don’t mind making things up. I am a font for fiction after all.

But today I have an immediate response to you on a book by Bob Shaw, a writer I’ve never read before this (unless he was in one of those Analogs, in which case I’m going to feel really silly). This response isn’t immediate because it’s timely or because my hackles were raised, but because I’m trying to be a better person, and we all want to be better people, don’t we, even if we fail again and again and again? (Forgive that–M and I just watched THE VOICES and it was the most horrifying movie we’ve seen in a long time.)

Ground Zero Man tells the story of a scientist who invents a way to set off every nuclear bomb in the world at once. After a nuke is detonated over Damascus, he is filled with horror at the world and the devastation humanity can inflict on itself, and so this invention, which, when it was first described to me, seemed no better than nuclear war. HOWEVER, his plan is to let every nuclear power know about the device and that he is planning to press the button in a few weeks, giving them barely enough time to disassemble all the bombs and, hopefully, not enough time to track him down and kill him.

I almost put this book down several times for good.

First, it was about a subject that seemed more fit for a short story than a novel, and also that story would bore me to no end. However, Shaw managed to keep bringing interesting twists to the novel, cutting off paths I thought he was going on in order to take a new direction into the untrammeled forest. Each of those new paths kept my interest enough so that I managed to speed through the second half of the book.

Second, none of the characters in this book are likable. Granted, what is likability, and does it matter? I suppose what I mean more so is that the view of the writer is very cynical, and that plays out in both his characters and the world they live in, which is depressing. I like dark. I write dark. But a view of gender where women and men are constantly at odds, and a married couple are virtual strangers, unable to crack each other’s shell, it all wears on me. It’s not that I read for pure escapism, to enter into a world where all of reality’s problems don’t exist, but it is taxing to spend so much time in another POV that by its very nature tends towards depression.

SPOILER: This book ends with the main character pressing the button. This is not really a spoiler, as his life has fallen apart by that point and the only thing giving his further existence meaning is the fulfillment of his plan that might, in some way, save the world (in his mind).

SPOILER: This one really spoils (though maybe not if you fully accept the cynical worldview). Though all the nuclear weapons are disabled or exploded, that won’t prevent people from inventing bombs immune to his auto-detonation, and so the end he’s presented as simply making everything worse by funneling so much more money into nuclear weapons research rather than into schools or hospitals or etc.

NOT A SPOILER: This book has a sort of twisted view of women. It’s hard to say whether Shaw is blaming society for that, the resulting behavior of women purely a result of the pressures society puts them under. Most of the women in the book come off badly, and one is killed (the promiscuous one), and another is permanently paralyzed (the jealous wife). It’s not that men are portrayed as paragons of virtue in any sense, but the women seem to get the worst of it.

Overall, not a bad novel, but also not something that spurs me to go out and find everything Shaw has ever written.

So there you go.

A hot take.

Nuclear, even.

Posted in Reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Analog February 1975

Analog February 1975

I’m not spending any time on the non-stories in these old Analogs, but that’s not because what’s there isn’t interesting. In fact,  reading those reviews and editorials and science articles are a large part of the fun of this cultural archaeology–it’s just that they’re harder to summarize. This issue contains a prediction as to the future of moon exploration, a paean to P. Schuyler Miller (the long-standard book review who died a few months previous), letters to the editor regarding a fight between Asimov and Velikovsky, and mail-order ads involving pseudo-science. Fascinating artifacts, but what I’m concerned with here is the state of the SFF story (according to one magazine) during a single year.

On we go.

“Lifeboat” (part 1 of 3) by Gordon R. Dickson and Harry Harrison: Harry Harrison wrote a series of books about Deathworlds, a Stainless Steel Rat, and Bill, the Galactic Hero. Gordon R. Dickson you might remember from the dragon poem of last issue. Together they write a story about an unpleasant and, frankly, a little abhorrent hero (he pats a grown woman on the head as encouragement) whose space-liner explodes, leaving him and his slaves (essentially, though they are given a different name) on a lifeboat run by the last two crew remaining from the ship. The lifeboat is in bad shape, however, so there is the danger that the survivors are just dragging out their unavoidable end.

There is some interesting world-building here. The crew of the ship are aliens whose culture prioritizes death in space (somewhat akin to the glory of dying in battle other cultures have prized) and are resentful both of the loss of the ship–it was clearly sabotaged–and the fact that they weren’t allowed to die with the ship. The main character, Giles, is a Adelman who is one of the elite of Earth while the others are arbites, people bred to serve specific functions.

I suspect over the course of the story, Giles will learn that arbites are people, too. Maybe. But there is very little that is pleasant about this story setting us firmly in the mind of a paternalistic, misogynistic slave owner.

“The Hunters of Tharsis” by Bob Buckley: A strange story about human colonists on Mars being devoured by a native creature that essentially remakes them using its own flesh as a basis around the devoured one’s brain. A number of the colonists become part of this creature, creating a new society at odds with the old one, the struggle of the story centered around whether the two different groups can live in peace. In some way, it is a tale about belonging to a group, and how your perspective on life changes when the group you belong to changes (because of race, class, disability, etc.) because suddenly your needs or the way you are treated is different.

The writing here is good, though I am again presented with no likeable/relatable characters. Is this a problem? Or a result of having a focus on plot/situation rather than people? Or my own myopia at work?

“Equinocturne” by Bob Chuck Wilson: “Equinocturne” is a beautiful story about a spaceship captain trying to settle down before the radiation of space permanently damages his DNA. His lover/partner/promised-wife lives on a planet he only visits once a year, so much of what Wilson focuses on is the simple difficulty of two people who knew each other coming to know each other once again.

Of course, that’s not the main plot of the story (though it would’ve been enough for me) (and it is the main plot, as far as I read it, except that it has no adventure to it, and adventure/science/twists are key to the stories here) which instead revolves around recent mysterious deaths of some colonists. That thread is interesting, too, but almost only as it highlights the relationship dance at play. This is well worth reading, if you can find it.

Sidenote: What are the chances of two Bobs being in the same issue?

“The Tax Man” by Stephen Robinett: A joke story that actually has heart and drive to it. The premise is sort of an extreme Libertarian nightmare where the vast majority of the U.S. has a 98% tax rate but is also provided with all their basic needs (the rich and famous and political are, of course, exempt from this burden). If you choose not to pay your taxes, then a Tax Man comes to collect by killing you and taking all of your possessions as forfeit. Our main character is one such tax shirker who then runs for his life to Mexico.

The absurdity here appeals to me greatly, the story becoming a phantasmagoric dream as entertaining as a Beckett or Ionesco play. Are any of the characters relatable or even believable? No, but the end result is engaging writing all the same.

“The Negotiators” by Keith Laumer: Laumer is perhaps best known for his Retief stories about a galactic ambassador dealing with the idiocies of rampant bureaucracy with characters who are named things like Colonel Betterparts and Sloonge. The main plot of this story involves making a deal with meat-eating, quickly reproducing, violent aliens for ownership of Earth’s oceans. It’s absurd. You’d think after “The Tax Man” that I’d be completely into this story.

But Robinett, even in the midst of his absurdity, makes us care about the characters, even if they are jerks or careless or sinister. We can’t help but see their sides and be interested in the outcome. Laumer’s characters, on the other hand, are all the most cardboard of cardboard. The cardboardiest. They’re not meant to be much more than names and a transparent, single-minded attitude. They are representations. The humor of the story is crude and angry, the most bitter kind of satire without warmth or hope.

Laumer’s books have been very popular, so I know there’s a market for this writing. That market is not me.

BONUS: If anyone would like to read this magazine, send me a note and I’ll start it on its way. Regardless of my reactions to some of the stories, reading something from another era like this is fascinating.

Posted in Reading | Tagged , , | Leave a comment