Outward Bound Ideas

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Location: The City, On the edge

Friday, February 24, 2006

45. From Good Poems by Garrison Keillor

A very subjective selection (the putdowns not the putups) from the Introduction to Good Poems by Garrison Keillor

I looked at a truckload of poems to find the few thousand I've read on the radio, and it's an education. First of all, most poems aren't memorable, in fact, they make no impression at all. Sorry, but it's true. There are brave blurbs on the back cover ("writes with a lyrical luminosity that reconceptualizes experience with cognitive beauty") but you open up the goods and they're like condoms on the beach, evidence that somebody was here once and had an experience but not of great interest to the passerby.
I've come to admire.......Bukowski's love poems...... and admire his good humor, e.g., the poem in which he says he's lived with some fine women in his time but he would rather drive in reverse gear from L.A. to N.Y. than live with any of them again........
Reading Allen Ginsbergs collected poems is like hiking across North Dakota. I stopped at Fargo.
Walt Whitman is the Typhoid Mary of American Lit. so much bad poetry can be traced back to him (and not brief bad poems, either), he gave so many dreadful writers permission to lavish themselves upon us. Lord, forgive me.
And there is T. S. Eliot....so smooth he passed for British......
"Women's Lit" strikes me as one of the great dumb ideas to come out of my generation, right up there with multiculturalism.
Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, two women, who, forgive me, make St. Sylvia look like tuna salad.

Friday, February 17, 2006

44. Preface to The Way It Is by Naomi Shihab Nye

Preface by Naomi Shihab Nye to The Way It Is, New & Selected Poems by William Stafford

In our time there has been no poet who revived human hearts and spirits more convincingly than William Stafford. There has been no one who gave more courage to a journey with words, and silence, and an awakening life.
Rarely has a voice felt so intimate and so collective at once. How did he do this? An intense awareness of presence and absence permeates here. He embraced and saluted the process of working. He meandered, and valued the turns. He honored, while demystifying anything that rang of pomp. He dug in the ground. He picked things up and looked at them. He had so many frequent flier miles he could have started his own program. He answered people's letter diligently, often closing with "Adios."
He sent poems to people who asked for them. No magazine was too small for his consideration. He was marvelously funny, with a wry tip of wit, the folded poems coming out of one pocked, going back to the other. He left devotees in his wake but wouldn't have thought of them that way. He befriended the earth and its citizens most generously and attentively, at the same time remaining solitary in his countenance, intact, composed, mysterious, complete in his humble service.
There was, in William Stafford and his poetry, a profoundly refreshing, elemental life force which accepted good surprise and failure, exaltation and stumbling, with nearly equal regard.
There was, in William Stafford, a vast and necessary oxygen. If you were fortunate to encounter him in a reading hall or backwoods cabin, in a classroom or library or cafe, at the Library of Congress or on a beach, you could feel the larger air of his voice overtaking you very quickly. It was heartening, congenial, and utterly unpredictable.
If you discover his voice for the first time here, trust that his spoken voice travels through the poems indelibly. Sometimes we, the readers, feel we are coming from inside his poems. If you read them many times, aloud to yourself, slowly and carefully, savoring the pauses, you will hear. It has not left us.
William Stafford, originally from the land of Kansas, to the land of Oregon, the the widest lands of being, was a champion of language, a seeker, a deep rememberer, a purely original poet, and a beloved man. Now fiercely missed. But read these poems. That is part of it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

44. How U.S. Immigration Evolved


How U.S. Immigration Evolved
As the Nation Grew and Changed
January 9, 2006; Page B1

In the beginning, America -- vast, raw and sparsely populated -- needed every immigrant it could get.

When King George III tried to stem an exodus of his subjects to the New World in the 18th century, the colonists furiously accused him of trying to "prevent the population of these states." At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, James Madison declared, "That part of America that has encouraged [immigrants] has advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts." Well into the 19th century, American employers paid the passage of Europeans who were willing to come to America to work.

Not until 1882, more than two centuries after the first European immigrants set foot in America, did the federal government take immigration policy away from individual states, passing a general law to filter the nation's borders. Even then, only a few classes of "undesirables" were excluded: lunatics, convicts and idiots.

But in the early 20th century, when hundreds of thousands of people were immigrating each year (in the peak year of 1914, 1.2 million immigrants sought admittance), the nation stopped seeming quite so roomy. Cities were overflowing with poor, unskilled refugees whose cheap labor was believed to be undercutting wages for everyone else. Many Americans, known as nativists, decided the rising tide of immigration must be slowed, if not stopped.

"The myth of the melting pot has been discredited," declared Albert Johnson, a Republican representative from Washington State who led the fight in Congress to close America's borders. "The day of unalloyed welcome to all peoples, the day of indiscriminate acceptance of all races, has definitely ended."

In 1917 Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson's veto and decreed that prospective immigrants would have to pass a literacy test. When that test barred fewer than 1,600 people from entering the U.S. the following year, legislators began considering other ways to discourage immigration.

Their solution was two pronged: They would drastically lower the ceiling on total immigration, to about 180,000 a year. And the available slots would be allocated by a quota system based on a single fact: Where had each aspiring immigrant been born?

Under the so-called national origins system, created first on an "emergency" basis in 1921 and renewed in a more restrictive form in 1924, the U.S. census would count the number of foreign-born immigrants already in the U.S. and determine how many came from each country. Thereafter, 2% of the total of each nationality would be admitted annually. (The 1924 law fixed no quotas for immigrants from New World countries, including Canada and Mexico, whose seasonal laborers were crucial to the nation's farmers.)

To compute the number of people of each nationality living in the U.S., however, Congress used a little sleight of hand. Instead of utilizing the 1920, 1910 or 1900 censuses, it reached all the way back to the 1890 census to create its quota baselines.

Why turn the clock back more than 30 years to establish current policy? Because before 1890, most immigrants came from northern and western Europe, including Britain, Scandinavia and Germany. Between 1890 and 1920, many more immigrants sailed from southern and eastern European countries like Italy, Poland and Greece. And in 1924, wrote Roger Daniels in his 1990 history of immigration, "Coming to America," the U.S. was deeply split between "an old-stock, Protestant, small-town and rural America and an immigrant-stock, Catholic and big-city America."

Harvard University Prof. Robert DeCourcy Ward described the nativist position in a 1922 article in Scientific Monthly magazine: "If we want the American race to continue to be predominantly Anglo-Saxon-Germanic, of the same stock as that which originally settled the United States…; if we want our future immigration to be chiefly of more kindred peoples… easily assimilable, literate, of a high-grade intelligence, then the simplest way to accomplish this purpose is to base the percentage limitation upon an earlier census than that of 1910… before southern and eastern Europe had become the controlling element in our immigration."

In 1921, about 220,000 Italian-born men, women and children immigrated to the U.S.; in 1925, about 6,000 were allowed to enter the country. In 1921, some 33,000 people came to the U.S. from eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey); in 1925, fewer than 1,600 were admitted. The law had achieved exactly what it had set out to do: "America would be a nation ethnically frozen in time," as Ellis Cose wrote in his 1992 book, "A Nation of Strangers." National origin quotas would govern immigration policy for four decades before being abolished in 1965.

Immigration remains a contentious issue in the U.S. today, as people from every part of the globe try to enter the country, legally and illegally, to enjoy America's opportunities and freedoms. When Chicago Mayor William Thompson was challenged in a 1931 election by a second-generation Czech immigrant, he called his opponent, Anton Cermak, a "pushcart Tony." "It's true I didn't come over on the Mayflower," Mr. Cermak replied, "but I came over as soon as I could."

Write to Cynthia Crossen at cynthia.crossen@wsj.com