Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The New Verse News was good enough to publish my poem on their site Tuesday October 21st - 
It occurs to me that when a government builds “walls” to keep out writers and poets with different viewpoints from the ruling elite of a country, the government may be less concerned with the safety of their own citizens than with the suppression of vigorous intellectual discussion and debate.


by Steve LaVigne

“Poetry can be dangerous,” Rumi said, and U.S. Homeland Security isn’t taking any chances. The Jordanian-British poet Amjad Nasser had been invited to speak at New York University this fall, but on Sept. 27, he was questioned for two hours at London’s Heathrow airport and then prevented from flying to the United States. . . . “There are many literary activities that I am invited to and I can not go to because of this is problem, which is incomprehensible to me,” Nasser said. “I do not belong to any political party now, and I am against the use of religion in politics anywhere in the world. I am of those who say that without dialogue between intellectuals and thinkers in the world we can not bridge the gaps, whether real or artificial. This world is small and we have no other and we have to make it a viable place to live.”--Ron Charles, Washington Post, October 10, 2014. Image source: The Poetry Trust

“These are Orwellian times,
and the surveillance state is protecting us
from harmful poetry.” 
--Prof. Sinan Antoon,
who had invited Nasser to NYU.

I am a cowboy
nothing between me and my mustache
but miles and miles of federal BLM land

In the immortal words of my father “when you
don’t even have a pot to piss in” - he always
forgetting to mention who then becomes the pot

I too want to be denied entry into the United States
for my political beliefs
but I have already denied them myself
for all these years finally losing the hope
in hopelessness
the nothing in everyone else’s something
When is a poem not a one man or woman show?
I so want to own rip away velour sweat pants
just waiting for the coach to put me in

Let me start again

I want to be a poet like Amjad Nasser
dearly beloved of translators
invited as keynote speaker at NYU’s Gallatin
Global Writers Series
but denied entry by the Home Land
I want to be The Poet so dangerous
that even the reason I am not allowed to enter
the conversation
is classified
after all these years of dull schooling I
have finally unlearned this thing
taxonomy is the study of the commons
that which we all share in common
divided into hierarchies
it branches up and up but it’s not a tree
like your were taught or even
a burning bush
but a great wooden cross
(see, oh my mother swooning in ecstasy)
someone must be sacrificed
and you thought it would be someone else cowboy?
It is the great ascendancy of statistics
they lied when they said statistics lie - damn lies
an image lies, your emotion lies
your lover lies beneath
your words - when your words create
85 people control as much wealth as the poorest
3, zero zero zero, zero zero zero, zero zero zero billion
the first thing
with just zero point five percent of the richest 1%’s wealth
I want you to know
poverty could be eliminated
I am not
¼ of the jobs in America in some way relate
to making sure the richest
don’t have to share with the rest of us
How do I know god does not exist
If god did exist she would be a catholic nun
kindergarten teacher - her ruler of justice
coming down on the knuckles of those too greedy
few saying “share god damn you, you filthy little cretins”
every       rubric’s    solvable     every
cube is    solvable    rubric’s      cube is
as long as you know there is no such thing
it’s a rubik’s cube - I am such an idiot
for not understanding words or even a few letters
make or unmake worlds
hope in hopelessness
I never thought I would be the one wearing a habit
a god in my own uncomfortable classroom
my grandparents went through the great depression
and I remember thinking what is wrong with them
that haunted look in their eyes - some kind of
PTSD - I remember thinking can’t they just get over it
but now I see that same look in other
people’s eyes - young eyes
my grandparents having died years ago
and the only thing I can really remember
no matter how old or frail they seemed
when they looked at you
when they gave you that look
you did not want to fuck with them

Steve Lavigne runs a local poetry group in Champaign Illinois. It meets weekly to discuss, create and share poetry in order to build community through the power and practice of poetry.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mother - Magpie Tales 242

Mother carved in stone

half buried
                under growth

the flesh of the earth
   searching                  tree roots
shag of fungus lichen 
bearding her
and you wish to know
her name not duties
or titles
no matter how

too soon she lies
with the birth of all species
and all who will follow

damp earth and rot
the days
of her life

the unremarkable sun
her only companion
distant and a reminder
that each day is loss

posted for The Mag - Magpie Tales

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bottled Water Comes From the Most Drought-Ridden Places in the Country*

This poem was published by New Verse News on their August 20th 2014 post but it remains as relevant as ever with California's drought continuing and finding water for some cities near emergency status.

Bottled Water Comes From the Most Drought-Ridden Places in the Country*

“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.” John Maynard Keynes

“a state
experiencing the third driest
year on record”
“this industry
has very successfully
turned a public resource
into a private enterprise”
“But still,
the question remains:
why Americans across the country
drink bottled water
from drought stricken

my mother’s milk - bless her old teats
up for private speculation and public offering
flaccid wrinkled worn - and still unregulated
best to get them - the definition of insanity
while they’re still hot

the invisible hand of the market that moves
always was
and was not my father’s
open palm of pain directing
the way toward some fictional future goodness
or goddamn quiet
the need in his mind like a thought
too loud to be drowned out only dimmed
by the light of a tv in a darkened room
or the screaming complaints of self-righteous
demanding its their turn to choose

All quotes from the

Brief Bio:
I run a local poetry group in Champaign Illinois - cupoetry.com. We meet weekly to discuss, create and share poetry in order to build community through the power and practice of poetry.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Ferguson Missouri - August 2014

This piece was printed by The New Verse News August 15th 2014 -

Ferguson Missouri - August 2014

Every morning
    the electroejaculated goats
    my wife texts me from work
and on the twitter feeds and facebook posts
    Ferguson Missouri burns -
You don’t think supplying army (military) grade equipment
    to the police was unintentional do you?
That any conflict in the world between police and protest
    looks exactly like this?
That anyone taking pictures, especially reporters, recharging
    their equipment in the local McDonald’s
    wrenched from their seat, their head jammed against
    a cement wall by an ordinary lug saying oops
    before being taken in and arrested 
because they didn’t show their i.d. fast enough
You don’t really still think this is about race or
    race wars like the bigots and racists do, do you?
You don’t think the government had plans for this,
    their contingencies for “growing inequality” Can you say
    pharaohs and slaves, bitches? (No really, in mathematical terms
    you have to look at the modern world’s inequality in those terms
    or even larger)
That we live within a two tiered justice system
    that the effects of climate change have now been brutally calculated
You don’t think they’re worried 
that now the white shit, not just the brown and the black
    is starting to hit the fan
And you don’t think Ferguson Missouri is still
    just a small town in the middle of the country,
    do you?
What? you expect me to say that unless things
    change it’s your hometown next -  
    it’s in your heart -
    it’s the whole damn world - boom?


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Somebody Shut Off the Water in Detroit

Originally published in The New Verse News 

MONDAY, JULY 07, 2014


by Steve LaVigne

Thousands of Detroit residents are facing a reality rarely seen around the Great Lakes: Life without water. But a Canadian group is leading the charge against a controversial plan to stop water service on delinquent accounts. The bankrupt city is shutting off water at a rate of 3,000 residents per week. It also recently increased water rates by nine per cent. Nearly half of the 329,000 accounts are in arrears and the average cost of a Detroit water bill is double the national average. Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, flagged Detroit's plan to deal with delinquent accounts to the United Nations earlier this year. The UN calls the plan to shut off water a clear violation of human rights. "I've seen this in the poorest countries in the world," Barlow said. "This is what we call failed states, but to see this in North America, it's a disgrace." --CBC News, July 3, 2014

Somebody shut off the water in Detroit

City of Philip Levine’s brother
waiting in the unemployment line
all who can are leaving now

Somebody blew up America
Amiri said
it’s just happening in slow motion

I want to say in history it was religion
than the state and now corporations
oligopoly trickling down but that just wouldn’t be

Somebody shut off the water in Detroit
and there’s no recourse now
It’s not the man / It’s not the machine no
Somebody blew up America in slow motion
run duck and cover
like the good ol days
when all we had
to fear
not fear not ruskies
just the good old days
when the bomb started ticking

and now the best jobs in Detroit are
scavenging old buildings for copper
wiring to sell to salvage to sell
to chinese dealers the last best
investors in America’s infrastructure

Somebody turned off the water in Detroit
and not just to the 40,000 abandoned homes
and feral packs
of dogs running the streets
all those good ol pooches let loose
and alone
by those who could fleeing/fled/gone from
the rotting

Somebody turned off the water in
DE - TRoiT   mo town blues
Blazing Blurry Bleary cry
foreshadowing they call it
when I want to say morning in america
But they knew it was really sunset
you know (that whole shtick) darkest before
the you know the rest

Can’t we all just agree water is
a basic communal good
Somebody call the U.N.
Somebody’s blowing up America in
slow motion
and hey it’s happening to everyone now
not just the browns the blacks and the reds

The poems referenced in the above poem are:
an eye opening piece on the selling of america’s big cities like detroit and cleveland piece by piece by Vice

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Writing in the Wild West

While visiting Bozeman Montana this week attended a local writer’s workshop to see how we in Champaign-Urbana can improve our own workshops.  
Even out West it seems a local weekly writing workshop is a local weekly writing workshop, but I did gain some fresh perspectives as an outsider.

The numbers -

Although this group has been in Bozeman for 5 years, they said they have a core of 8-12 folks and really have no interest in expanding to anymore than that.  My thoughts - why not expand?  Writing is at its core about self exploration and personal improvement - doesn’t our society need more independent creative thinkers in this increasingly corporatized, NSA surveilled world?  You will just need a) more small 8-12 person groups or b) different formats which brings me to ...

Seeing the group from a group dynamic perspective -

Although the group was slightly smaller than usual due to a storm, the dynamics were strikingly similar to other writing groups I am familiar with - i.e. CU Poetry, but I suppose any small group wanting to get something accomplished needs a similar structure. Cue the strong charismatic leader. Each group needs a leader - yes - but when one person is so dominant for such a long time the overall organization may tend to lose flexibility and experimentation.  What I have tried to do here at CU Poetry is to informally share leadership duties within individual workshops. But what I think we should do is formally have long standing members take control of certain workshops and see how creative we can get - thus if (and when) we grow we can have folks with experience leading their own groups.

Technical Speak -

Although they are mainly a fiction group it was interesting to hear a list of  writer’s jargon - tone, narrative, pacing etc. used with each piece to get the participants thinking along those lines. I think our group actually shies away from such terminology in order to seem more inclusive although we do use a variety of other terms for similar concepts. And after reading about workshops here -

So you want to be a writer … from The Guardian   (Last week Hanif Kureishi dismissed creative writing courses as 'a waste of time', yet they have never been more popular. Other leading author-teachers reveal their advice to students)

it occurred to me -  should we even refer to ourselves as a workshop?  That is certainly up for debate. But I think creativity, self exploration, freedom of expression, self improvement and individual striving for enlightenment is too important to be left up to the professionals.
In any case just as we should not slavishly avoid sounding like traditional workshops, we should not be afraid to use established workshop language and techniques to continually challenge our works and ourselves.

Practice writing during the group time -

Was glad to see a live demo of how another group writes during workshop time as we have some folks anxious to do just that. Their approach? They free write for a couple of minutes (which no one sees) - then the leader picks a topic and they write for a couple of more minutes and have a few folks share their fresh off the press works.  Seems to work well and frees up the inspiration a bit. For example - not hesitating when thinking a line is too simple or plain - or not being hesitant to use an image or idea you have previously used.
The example this week was to use one of the elements - fire water earth air and use one of those to describe the creative impulse or where your writing comes from - Fun little exercise (or variation of) we will definitely have to try. Personally I didn’t go with just free association but was in poeming mode here is what I came up with first -

fire warms at certain distances
burns you from others
too much too little
this goldilock zone
we spin in
I orbit with you
sun to planet
planet to moon
reflecting fire or burning
from within
how I long to know you
and myself
(as I know myself)

and even though some of the lines are a bit too pat for my taste and I have used the image idea of goldilock zone before, after just a few tweaks I have this

Fire warms from certain distances
burns at others
too much too little
this goldilock zone
we spin in
orbiting with you
sun to planet
planet to moon
reflecting fire or burning
from within
how I long to know you
as I know myself

I don’t know maybe I will work on it later or use some pieces of it later on or simply shelve it as the writing experiment it was but it was a good exercise to try and got me writing and thinking so was worth the effort.

In conclusion -

When visiting another town and you have some free time, I highly recommend checking out some of the local writing groups. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the Gypsy Rhythm Writers twice monthly open mic as well. But even so it was encouraging to see such a wide variety of courageous people willing to share a bit of who they are through the written word. I found the folks here in the real west of Montana to be not so different from home or, as I expect, the rest of the world.  If you have the impulse to write, then write - And when it comes to your writing remember in the immortal words of the band “38 Special”

“Your baby needs someone to believe in
And a whole lot of space to breathe in
It's so damn easy
When your feelings are such
To overprotect her
To love her too much…
Just hold on loosely but don't let go
If you cling too tightly
You're gonna lose control
Yeah, yeah, yeah”

Or something like that - happy writing and have fun