Saturday, October 06, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Dianne Silvestri

Dianne Silvestri 

Dianne Silvestri is a writer and retired physician. She is author of the chapbook Necessary Sentiments. Her poems have recently appeared in Naugatuck River Review, Barrow Street, Poetry South, Zingara Poetry Review, and The Main Street Rag. A past Pushcart Nominee, she studies and performs with PoemWorks Workshop. She is Copy-Editor of the journal Dermatitis and leads the Morse Poetry Group in Natick.

The Walker
            after Wallace Stevens

One must assume a temper of fall
To mark the browning and shadows
Of crisping trees in the chill;

And have accepted an annual dwindling
To salute the pin oaks scalding ochre,
The maples flushed in the fleeting flare

Of September’s slant; and not to claim
Any pain in the musty scent of diminution,
In the scent of dry leaves,

Which is the scent of existence
Full of that same diminution
That is drifting through the same space

Of the beholder, who walks in the chill,
And, barely extant herself, kens
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Rendezvous with Oblivion by Thomas Frank.

Rendezvous with Oblivion by Thomas Frank. Henry Holt and Company, 225 pages, $16.50.

Book Review by Ed Meek

Thomas Frank is a unique voice in nonfiction. He is both witty and well-informed. In his new book of essays, he claims to deal with “matters of grave import” with “a certain amount of levity.” The essays, written between 2012 and 2018, appeared in Harper’s, Salon, The Guardian, and Thomas Frank’s online publication, The Baffler. The book is divided into sections covering inequality, higher education, journalism, the election of Trump and the state of the Democratic Party. Frank maintains a breezy tone with an underlying sense of both hope and cynicism.  He is a liberal, but he is critical of both the Democrats and the Republicans.  As the title implies, he thinks we are in deep sh#t.

Frank’s specialty is focusing on developments in our country that either don’t seem to make sense or are ridiculous, but fit into his perspective that we’re out of joint. In a chapter on inequality, he deals with the origin and growth of McMansions. He says everyone hates them but the newly elite buy them anyway to cement their elite status. Another essay in the same section talks about the lack of empathy rich people have for the rest of the populace.  “They are more rude and less generous.” He writes about fast food enterprises that pay workers minimum wage leading to those workers need for food stamps and Obamacare. That is to say, we may pay less for our cheeseburgers, but we then have to pay taxes to help our fast food employees survive. Meanwhile, their employers rake in millions. Fast food is not as cheap as it appears to be.

In a section on higher education Frank looks at the mess we’ve created with outrageous tuition fees, student debt and a system that is now taught mostly by over-educated, underpaid part-time adjuncts. These same universities are charging exorbitant fees to students. How did that happen? Universities hire professors to do research and teach one class a semester because the money and the funding is in research. Big name schools hire celebrities like Elizabeth Warren to teach a class for 400K. They pay Presidents a couple of million per annum to raise money. At the same time, they’ve turned the campuses into sports clubs and spas replete with yoga, therapy and multi-cultural food franchises. Yet Canada manages to keep the tuition reasonable at its universities. Couldn’t we have affordable public universities that focus on education and teaching without all the frills?

Sometimes Frank gets a little glib as when he attacks cities that attempt imitate the Bilbao effect. He wants them to invest in essentials like low cost housing and infrastructure rather than art. But is investing in art and culture really a waste of money?

The last section focuses on politics and that is where Frank is most on point. He has an interesting essay about the way establishment journalists failed to take Bernie Sanders seriously. He laments the Democratic Party’s move to centrism and their loss of support among blue collar workers. Frank makes the case that Trump was the only candidate who addressed middle America’s concerns about trade. That’s why Trump is sticking with tariffs even if they hurt the economy. Trump also promised action on jobs, wages, schools and Social Security. So did Bernie, but he was not the Democratic nominee. Frank accuses Democrats of hubris, of being in love with the sound of their own voice. He warns us that there are decent odds that Trump could be reelected in 2020 if Democrats don’t get their act together.

There is a drawback to publishing collections of essays. The result is somewhat fragmented with essays written in 2012 sounding dated already. Nonetheless, Thomas Frank is always worth reading.