Tips for "revolutionaries not yet born": Jim Feast on ED SANDERS' new work, from The Brooklyn Rail

From a review by Jim Feast in the Brooklyn Rail:


by Ed Sanders
(Libellum, 2008)
ISBN 0-9752993-4-4
Cover by Red Grooms

….Rather than pit a set of good myths against the doped-up hallucinations of the far Right, Sanders offers “revolutionaries not yet born,” a sober, unadorned, unassuming patchwork of pointers, histories and reminiscences, grounded in three humanist principles.

1) People are never unabashed heroes, but they can have moments, episodes, when their higher instincts guide them. Sanders suggests this in his poem “Ginsberg in India.” He mentions things that happened to the Beat poet abroad, but then focuses:

There were many more adventures… But it is the tale of how Allen Ginsberg aided
Someone left for dead on the streets
that to me throws up a giant torch
on his humanity

While Ginsberg, certainly, could exhibit different faces, in this episode (as Sanders powerfully goes on to explain), the poet shows simple compassion.

2) People one deeply respects should be met, not with passive idol worship, but by sharing part of their adventure. Such a thought comes to the fore in reading “Poseidon’s Mane,” in which Sanders recounts a trip with friends to visit Charles Olson. Their meeting moves from a discussion of verse to raving and roistering once Olson presses on them tabs of acid from his huge stash. Memorably, Sanders feels the drug take effect while Olson is driving a car.

I glanced to the front seat and Olson had turned into Poseidon!
literally, the Horse from the Sea!
with kelp in his mane
matted and wet

The night turns into a rollicking, unsettling evening for Sanders (rendered in forceful strokes), and can, to some degree, be read as a cautionary tale. The broader point, shown not only in this instance but in poems recounting different circumstances, such as hearing Ginsberg read at the Living Theater, is Sanders’ open-hearted admonition to be willing to (within reason and for a limited time) share another creative person’s reality as a way of enriching and chastening his own ego-locked views.

3) Perhaps the most important principle in the book is this: the best sustenance for a progressive (who is sure to meet innumerable setbacks) is knowledge of previous struggles and people of conscience. One of the more hard-hitting, terse and touching pieces in the book is “Ode to Rachel Carson,” which describes the environmentalist’s finishing the writing of Silent Spring and “shaping the p.r. battle” to keep the book before the public, all the while dying from an increasingly virulent cancer. Also of this genre is Sanders’ “For Emma Goldman,” a fitting, low-flown (attesting to Sanders’ avoidance of hollow rhetoric), moving tribute to this tribune of justice, whom he characterizes as “known for her brilliant speeches & anarcho-leftist organizational skills.”

God knows (pardon the expression), we need a poetry book of this type, given the rabid intellectual dishonesty that the Christian Right is spewing through the net waves and air waves, as Collins so carefully exposes. Though they are debasing the past, the Right’s zealots are primarily focused on the present, on making the next buck and winning the next election, while Sanders pitches his work into the future where he foresees “a Permanent // cradle-to-grave society of the Sharing Rose // w/ freedom to speak, dream, act & create.”

Read the entire article at the Brooklyn Rail