Deer in the Zoomlights

Here we are locked in boxes, deer in the zoomlights, staring down an electric scrim to a hallway leading us inexorably toward…or away. How handy to identify each other as thumbnails, pocket-sized memes, a deck of archetypes dealt and frozen on the screen. The mind deals no mercy when it slices our dysmorphia into rectilinear treats, buttery chessmen stamped with roles and ripe for consumption. We zoom as we always have, checking off tasks, chasing desires, flashing on judgements, running from consequence. We zoom toward an uncertain present, locking in our assumptions like lap bars, restraining us – any of us – from moving too far out of position. How we treat it all as we do everything, like some ritual amusement ride. And should the coaster cars leap the tracks, as they occasionally do, where are our assumptions then? Our identifications? Our comfort zones? Thank god I can always just turn off my camera, leave my square blank or filled with my chosen image, pretend I’m listening, and drift off to the verandah to fire up a blunt as I watch the small people pass by on the street, observing, identifying, cataloging, locking them in boxes.

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UNIT OF AGENCY  –> FLYIN ATCHA !  ::  My new book of human struggle/protest culture/social justice/pissed-off leftie poems and short prose is now available directly through Collapse Press – click HERE to go there instantly – or on Amazon if you prefer. And if you like it, please leave a review on Amazon or on Goodreads.

It’s being debuted on Friday, October 29th at Collapse Press‘ The Friday Collapse reading series. Super proud of this book! But don’t ask me what I think. Here’s what poet and disability activist Hilary Brown has to say.

Unit of Agency is a gift of the tenderest rage, rage at its most righteous–against injustice, against inequality, against homophobia, against colonization and gentrification, against the dying of the light of humanity and human kindness. Through his poetry, Loranger reminds us that none of us escapes this life innocent or unscathed. We are bruised and broken with blood on our hands, but we are also together. It is not a bleak view. The riches that capitalism and greed have stolen from us, Loranger gives back with poetry that is rich visually, auditorily, and, most of all, emotionally. These works are both ammunition and imperative. This is poetry that matters.

Pretty nifty, huh? You can find more blurbs and writings about the book on the Books & Chapbooks page. Please do pick one up.

UPCOMING EVENTS  ::  Okay, here we go. On Saturday, October 23, 6-7pm I’ll be reading on zoom for the San Francisco International Arts Festival. How cool is that? Co-features are Ayodele Nzinga, Avotcja, Greer Nakadegawa-Lee, Natasha Dennerstein, and Kai Sugioka-Stone, and it’s hosted by Kimi Sugioka. That’s how cool that is.  ::  On Friday, October 29 at 6:30 I’ll be zoomin the room at The Friday Collapse to debut my new book Unit of Agency. Ecstatic to be co-featuring with the absolutely only Mimi Gonzalez-Barillas, who rocks my poetic world. Plus a fab open mic!  ::  On Saturday, November 6 I’ll be reading as part of a co-book release with Natasha Dennerstein, whose new book Broken is, well, forthcoming until then. Also reading will be the powerhouse lineup of James Cagney, Juba Kalamka, Dena Rod, and Cassandra Dallett. Who could ask for more? This event will be in person and everything at the Mosswood Park Amphitheater in North Oakland. Gathering around 1 and starting soon after. Masks required. Yay!  ::  Finally, Collapse Press is sponsoring a second zoom release on Saturday, November 13, which will include readers from around the country. Time and readers still being determined, but I’m excited to read with compadras y compadres from all the different places.  ::  Deets as always on the Events page.

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Sr Freire

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Paulo Freire and the Brokenness of Silencing

I’m sixty years of age, and having been more or less sentient for the past four and a half decades, I’ve had the opportunity over those years to witness and be engaged with the progress (and lack thereof) in the endeavors of human rights, social justice, social and economic equity, and movements created to counter racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, economic and educational disparity, to name a few. From my perspective, there has definitely been progress, enough to cheer me in the effort. I am definitely looking at a much, much different world from that of, say, the late 70’s, one in which many more means of oppression are recognized, discussed, and addressed. It is also my perspective that what I’ve seen, what progress has been seen globally since is just a start, in some ways remarkable and in some ways meager. It is also my perspective that individuals and movements can never push hard enough, can never resist enough the wealth-forged crushing instruments of enfeeblement, pillory, and death. Never enough. And that’s tough, because we’re human (that’s kind of the point) and we get tired, at some point we each need a break, need others to step in, new folks to step up and push. And that happens. And it’s never enough.

One of the actions that most invigorates resistance, that energizes and empowers the oppressed and bolsters our resilience is learning. And that’s what’s on my mind today. That seems like an obvious proposition, doesn’t it? Of course, say the adamant (and thank the stars for y’all), we need to educate people about their oppression, we need to wake people up. We need to educate potential allies to fortify the cause. All good, I’m with you there. But what is less simple than it seems is this: what constitutes learning? How is it best achieved? And what as an educator are you trying to achieve? Let’s say you want to bring folks around to some specific perspective. Fair enough, but also an unreachable goal, because no two people can really have the same accumulated views and experience. That may seem like quibbling but it’s fundamentally true, since we’re all different individuals on different paths. We can, however, arrive at more common and shared perspectives, can influence others to acknowledge, agree, and support a common goal. But again you still need to consider how to approach that, how it’s best achieved.

Sometimes I encounter activists who want to bring me around to a certain perspective, want to pass along knowledge that they hope will result in me being more aligned with them. This might happen in a one-on-one conversation, amongst a group at table, at a poetry reading and afterward in a bar. I sometimes find such a person to assume that I know nothing of what they’re speaking of, that I have no expertise or understanding or perspective of my own on oppression. This can put me off, as it’s often an assumption based on my age, or race, or another demographic, and right or wrong, it’s an assumption, which puts a barrier between us from the start. More problematic than that is when I find that this person is not interested in hearing my viewpoint or background, or even my questions, is not interested in dialog, in any back and forth – they just want to me to get their point.

Maybe it’s because I am, among other things, and educator and a pedagogist, I find that approach to teaching to be distressing. A big part of the reason I feel that way comes from a perspective that I’ve accrued from another, or at least a version of it. One of the most radical and invaluable approaches to teaching – and pedagogy – in modern times came from Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. In his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he criticized a model called the “banking system of education” which, he suggests, is not only a traditional approach to teaching but one designed to keep people passive and unaware of their oppression. This model envisions the student as an empty vessel waiting to be filled with information. Once they are, they should have the capacity to perform their function in society, with their proper place in the hierarchy. Freire argues that only through dialog and the continued development of critical thinking can one become awakened to their oppression, able to see it clearly, and eventually become part of an active and engaged resistance – not because they were told it was good, but because they’d arrived at that conclusion through their own thought process and especially through the intermingling and development of their perspective with others’. His ideas are way simplified here, so I hope you get my point. The link at the title above will take you to its Goodreads page, where you’ll find a lot more perspectives (and a place to purchase it if you like). Sure, Freire was a radical in that he wanted people to be able to take control of their lives, and futures, and destinies. He has been denigrated for decades for being a communist or a socialist or an anarchist, each of which he may have been to some extent, and each of which, he might have noted, threaten the complacency of those who’ve been successfully “banked”.

A few years ago I had a local activist leader say to me in private conversation, “We don’t need dialog. We need people to listen!” (Exclamation point his.) I had just been telling him at some length about my history of activism, the oppression I’d been through as a non-normative queer, my enthusiasm about how things were going in the justice-focused literary community, and that in fact I’d been motivated to attend 15-20 readings a month for most of a year, just to hear as many voices as possible. I then expressed concerns about what had been the rising instances of silencing in the community. Though I think that in rare cases that is a necessary evil, most of the time I see it as social branding and shunning without inquiry. In any case, it’s never a simple situation. I’d asked where he stood on the issue of silencing versus dialog, and you’ve already read his response. He then went on to explain to me impatiently that in order to become woke, I would need to learn to listen to as many voices and perspectives on oppression as possible – showing me clearly that he hadn’t listened to what I’d been saying, that I didn’t fall into his category of “worth listening to”. And therein I believe lies a barrier to effective education, on all sides. It’s natural for a newly-wakened person to feel very strongly about making progress and creating justice, as well about their new perspective, and it often can feel as if they’ve “seen the light” (they have), that their worldview until that point was wrong, and now it’s right – but often in absolutes. That’s adamancy for you. Of course it’s essential to get resistant people to listen to your perspective. But for true engagement and progress, listening cannot be a one-way action. Without dialog, perspectives stagnate and degrade from enlightenment to ideology. And that’s part of what got us here in the first place.

I so wish that Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was required reading for young or newly minted activists. It’s a tough and taxing read, mostly because it’s so filled with intense and sometimes complex concepts that it can feel like a workout at times. And when has a workout been bad for anyone? I’m not saying that there aren’t activists who are aware of and utilize some of Friere’s ideas; I’m sure there are. But I think that the benefits that a broader awareness could have for progressive movements and education, and the vast improvements it could bring to relations between activists, and potential allies, and even opponents are sorely needed and overdue.

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BOOKS I’VE LIKED RECENTLY ::

Eruptions of Inanna: Justice, Gender, and Erotic Power by Judy Grahn (Nightboat Books, New York, NY, and Sinster Wisdom, Dover, FL), 2021

In the early 1980’s I came across Judy Grahn’s Queen of Wands, a web-like series of poems centered on the myth and archetype of Helen of Troy, which opened my eyes to feminist literary history like nothing had to date. Besides, the poems thrilled me and I couldn’t stop reading them, and were definitely an early influence. Her latest book, Eruptions of Inanna, is a deeper dive into what’s become known of the Sumerian poetry and goddess culture, focused on Inanna, later known as Ishtar in Babylonian thought. Grahn uses story(re)telling, theory, multi-cultural literature and histories, and quotations from various translations of original texts (cuneiform tablets and beyond) to lay out a feminist and LGTBQ+ interpretation of the earliest known writings on the place and power of women in culture and lore. And I gotta tell you, it really revved me – this is fascinating and foundational stuff. She explores the works of Enheduanna, the earliest known poet by name, detailing and praising the many forms of Inanna and relaying the tribulations that she’d been through herself. This is a brief take so no great detail here, but in the course of the work Grahn unveils an early approach to justice in which transgressors are made to enact the opposite of their injurious deeds, performing the social and personal healing that they owe (millennia before that egregious patriarchal eye-for-eye approach); early tales of gender conflicts in a gender-balanced society, with hints of the approaching patriarchy, which wouldn’t be founded until long after that poet’s life, through both well- and lesser-known myths; the origins and social and spiritual functions of drag; same-gendered love and the place held by trans and differently gendered people in Sumerian culture; and a wellspring of myths and tales in their earliest known iterations that ripple through and reveal themselves plainly again and again in Babylonian, Indian, Greco-Roman, Biblical, Medieval, and even modern literature, legend, and theologies. It’s a heck of a work, a complex of ideas all told with Grahn’s reliable passion and compassion. Interesting thing: the sections of the book read a bit like separate stories and essays, as if meant to be placed in various publications, reintroducing characters and retelling variations of the tales, but after a while I realized that wasn’t really the case, regardless of Grahn’s approach to the construction of the book. Rather, they began to read in a fugue-like manner, weavings that pick up again take you to different places, or maybe like many entrances, many doorways into a great house – or perhaps many ways out.

Cauldrons, K.R. Morrison (Paper Press, Santa Barbara, CA), 2021

This first chapbook by poet K.R. Morrison was a perfect complement to the Judy Grahn book that I speak of above, because women women women! That circumstance also sparked an interesting cogitation. I’d first read this chap a month or two ago, but hadn’t written about it; then I re-read it after the Grahn book for that purpose, and I couldn’t help but think, yes, this is an instance of Inanna erupting, this is what Judy Grahn describes as a ripple of the ancient goddess culture and writings welling to the surface in contemporary America. Then I thought, no, you’re just conflating the two because you read them consecutively. Then I thought, yes, you idiot, of course you’re right. Morrison’s work delves into the experience, essence, archetypes, actions of the female, the feminine, the human. It is populated with characters we know deeply: Bone Mother, Mother Moon, Sea Babies, Witch Poet, pirate woman, a woman who can burn down the world. They are also very real. These entities exist in the flesh, in elements, in fauna and flora; they shift from one to another, they be, they dwell, they enact each. They have power. They are power. They struggle and confront. They do have cauldrons, tools of divination, runes, blood magic. They live in the earth and from the earth. And they try to make it through their days. One poem is titled, “in sea foam reside past lives”. Others “Her Altar” and “8 Hour Shift”. In other words, this book is singing away from a deep place, and is a charged first work. It would do you good to read it.

P.S. – Cauldrons contains two lines that evoke an image that really made me smile, one of my favorites in some time. They are: “revolution & reform argue at a dinner table / like a tired couple, their marriage arranged”. ‘Nuff said.

Oakland, I’m Not Dead by Keith Mark Gaboury (Pedestrian Press, Oakland, CA), 2020

I had such fun reading these prose poems. Anyone who has every heard Keith Mark Gaboury read knows that he’ll meet you any day on the corner of Weird and Absurd with the Monk of Real Life meditating in the intersection. Every one of these nineteen pieces is a dense block of surreal dialogue – these are conversation poems, and each one is a gem of its own shining. A man whose wife has given birth to a child with a head of lettuce has a distressing encounter in the produce aisle. A person has a run-in with an adamant member of the Anti-Goblin Task Force. A mid-life crisis results in one speaker turning into a tadpole. We find a couple of questionable interactions with repair people. A couple of not-quite appropriate situations with pineapples. A suspenseful discussion about a lost dog. And a heartfelt and revealing chat between a coyote and the City of Oakland. And quite a bit more. I totally recommend picking up some of his work. Keith Mark Gaboury is an understated writer whose work makes a lot of colorful noise in your brain. He’s also an understated writer who’s had bad luck with small presses, both of which who’ve published his books having closed. You might find a few copies on Amazon or the like, but if you come across him at a reading or event, definitely ask him about his wares. And somebody please publish more of his stuff!

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The Mounds

Legend has it that scattered about the globe are a number of vast warehouses that very few can access, each of which contains, forgotten and forlorn, a mountain of blowdryers. These are not of the used and broken variety; they are sleek, pristine products, many in their original and unsullied packaging. Each of these had gone at some point slightly out of style and had been discreetly dumped upon the heap to allow for the manufacture of more, more, millions more hand blowdryers which the citizenry no doubt craves. Every year both the size and number of the obscene hills grow: treacherous, imposing, dizzying things. Yet have you noticed any marches or protest movements calling for the cleanup, the management, the recycling of these mountains of former precious resources turned ludicrous junk? Of course you haven’t, given the unlikelihood of noticing the absence of something when there is in fact an overwhelming multitude of things which are present and indeed command your attention. No, sadly there are no blowdryer demountaining movements, save one small and frightened group in Central Michigan. According to them, and mind you this may be lore upon lore, there is an insidious reason why so few people are aware of these heaps of shapely plastic, why they’re kept so hidden, and why no one any longer protests this egregious piling of waste, not even they. They say, they claim that The Mounds, as they’ve come to call them, have become a danger in and of themselves. It seems that all of that plastic and metal, having been violently ripped from the earth then melded and molded and forced into its current form, experienced that process as indescribable agony and torture. Following that, to be discarded so indifferently, leaving these dryers with no purpose whatsoever after all that pain filled them with such despair and sense of abandonment that, huddled en masse in isolation, collectively they have become sentient, filled with rage, and worst of all, the group claims, somehow motile. That’s right, they say those blowdryer hills are pissed as hell, creeping toward the exits and planning their escape. Further, the group claims to have seen it for themselves. They had, it seems, broken into one of the storage facilities late one night to determine just how bad this environmental debacle had become, only to come across a security guard screaming his last breaths as he was mangled to death by the vast heap of blowdryers. The Mound then turned and began clattering its way toward them, and they fled for their lives. Shortly after that, they learned that those warehouses around the world had been totally locked down, and no one would be getting near them any time soon. Believe what you will, or don’t, and pray you never find out – be it legend or warning, the Great Blowdryer Mounds may be on the loose, slouching their way toward you. You can almost hear them in the distance, can’t you, that cacophonous rumble of waste growing louder.

Happy October,
Richard

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