Sunday, September 21, 2003

With a Weary Heart...

With a weary heart, and though fighting a malaise of the soul, I  try to stay proactive during these tough times. The Battle ain't over yet...the fat lady is singing something about democracy and rights. Only sometimes it's hard to hear the words for all the fanfare.  

We must continue to stay proactive— especially as we approach the 2nd anniversary of 9/11 —and especially in lieu of last night's presidential address where Bush has asked for yet another 87 BILLION dollars for war aid in Iraq. (So who's keeping all the oil this point, it should be a self-sustaining war...fed by Iraqui oil profits...).

For the first time in 25 years, thanks to current federal and state govt. spending patterns, I have no employment in the schools (zip, zilch, nada), and Bush's request for a further 87 BILLION dollars is hitting me hard in the viscera. 

I wake up nights sweating bullets. Last night, I watched the full moon cross the face of Mars and I thought long and hard on the god of war. For a moment I envisioned the night sky as a vast game of chess. The moon's checkmate.

Perhaps the Harvest Moon will cleanse the battlefield of the sky. Meanwhile, there's work to be done.

As Dylan Thomas admonished, do not go gentle into that dark night. We must rage, rage against the dying of the light. (and against those new nukes as well...) But do light a candle this week at one of the myriad vigils planned worldwide, hold it up to the moon so she can see the way. 

Happy Solstice. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

ENDGAME after Sesshu Foster

      ...found a body republic...  —Sesshu Foster        

Finding my lost writing notes to taste,
garden snails sampled the corners of the page,
but dog-eared paper thwarts any attempts
to tame an unruly kingdom of paper.

         I think in mnemonics: Kings played chess...

What phylum of mollusc covets a taste for fingered corners
where I’d penned a temporary pledge of allegiance
to Sesshu Foster’s republic of the body?
They paid particular attention to the “p” in “pledge,”
rimming the place where I had crossed out “body” for “sex.”
But left untouched the place where I wrote:
“by which it stands, indivisible from nature.”

Maybe it’s a taste for ledges or lead, not Latinate structure,
or pickled fingerprints that attracted them.
As if in answer, they chewed on an article speculating
on chromatic emotions and cephalopod sentience,
shunning the newspaper headlines ablaze with war headlines
to calligraph another kingdom across a rugged terrain of laundry.

         while the mind toys with: ...on fine grain sand

                  We used to sprinkle salt on them,
                  & listened to the hiss and sizzle of green flame,
                  indifferent to their agony.                           

What class of sentence, what order of word
tempted snail cognoscenti to gather at the garden gate
beneath a full moon or street lamp?
What family of noun or genus of verb feeds them
as they pledge allegiance to the continuation of their species
beneath a moonlit republic of mollusk self?



Friday, September 12, 2003


Heart-root. Surrender or defeat? Sounds like a battle cry. Infantry means foot soldiers underfoot, on their feet marching, marching towards defeat or victory. I'm lost amid Caesar's batillions.

All these war words on our minds. AWAD's selection is bellicose which means warlike. Nothing to do with full bellies though I'm getting one. Not enough marching since the last time I wrote in this in this journal. A freak accident with a  truck hitting my cousins house and my new-to-me car, wrenched my spine. I've been flattered by it. A silly accident, injured by my own car slamming into the house.

Yesterday I helped Neil prepare his room for open house, I covered a wall with collages from under the sea, and outer space, to the inner workings of the mind. It's all one thing. 

During during our writers' group meditation, I could feel the energy trying to climb up my spine and and immerse itself past the injury, but the cat yowled and we giggled. The energy retreated and then surged past the blockage and I was thinking about Windex. The cure-all in my Big Fat Greek Wedding. Wendex cures everything. Maybe I should spray Windex on my spine, or on my feet. Never surrender to defeat. 

This is ridiculous, I can't deepen. I can't write something pithy. Maybe I need to spray some Windex on my pen. Or on my mind. Making collages yesterday to heal the date, indelible on the brain, 9/11, like Kennedy's death over and over. I was at JFK high school. Art, my first language, is what I used to heal myself. We all need some Windex for the soul so that we may heal, so that I may see again with a clear vision, nothing between my thoughts and the air. 

Last night I dreamed I was on the hill of my childhood and the harvest moon passed in front of Mars.

Writers' Group

Letter to the Enright House, County Kerry, Ireland

To the Enright House
Martin Enright, Irish Agent
Dromlought, Lisselton
County Kerry, Ireland


Enclosed are several poems for consideration in your publication of Irish-American poetry:

Like So Many Board Feet
In Mary Bianchi's Garden
Lighting the Electric Fire
Condemned Flesh
Chickory II
Comida del Muerte
Dispelling Darkness

However, I find the 25-line framework a bit limiting—so what I’m sending is not necessarily indicative  of my larger body of work. I am interested in where you got my name for your publication venture, because once I wanted to do a poetry exchange with Ireland, but was unable to find funding for it. But my contacts did put me in touch with Seamus Heaney (whom I've met several times), I've also met Paul Muldoon—he was staying in Berleley, CA for a while.. Are you familiar with the work of a San Francisco  Latino poet, Francisco Alarcon? He  just returned from a reading tour of Ireland; his poetry was translated into Irish. New Rivers Press of Minneapolis, Minn., is also doing an Irish-American anthology. You may want to contact them. 

I am interested in finding out more information on your book-length manuscript competition. I will be in Holland until the end of October. You may reach me at R. Hogerbeetsstraat 97 -III, 1052 VV Amsterdam; otherwise, please send information to the above address after October 25.

Sincerely yours,

Maureen Hurley

P.S. Most of my Irish connections (Walsh & Sullivan) are from the West—in Kerry (Tralee), Cork (Bantry)— and some in Dublin ( Reilly & Duffy), Fighoragh (sic) & Longkesh. My father’s side of the family left Ireland during the late 19th c.; my maternal grandparents left in 1910 - 1919. As far as I can deduce I’m 100% (Black) Irish by all four bedposts(there was talk of the  invasionof the Spanish Armada in Bantry). I was raised by my maternal Corkonian grandmother, and so learned history/culture  according to the  Irish alongside the Anglo-Saxon (American)versions of history. Her Irish sensibilities certainly are  a prima source in my writing.


Maureen Hurley lives near the Russian River, where she is California Poets in the Schools Area Coordinator for Sonoma and Napa Counties in California. She's recipient of several artist in residency awards from national, state, local, and private agencies including seven California Arts Council grants. She has led workshops in public schools, a mental institution, and universities in California, the Bahamas, and in the USSR. She is director of Poetry Across Frontiers, a program that exchanges student poetry and art with sister city, Cherkassy, in the Ukraine. Hurley is a visual artist and photo-journalist as well as a poet. Her poems and photographs have appeared in Apostrofe!, ROTOR, Phantom Cherkassy Krai (Ukraine); The Louisville Review, Shaman’s Drum, Sing Heavenly Muse, Looking for Home, Chaminade Literary Review, Caribbean Writer, Gulf Stream, Poetry SF, First Leaves, Napa Poetry Review, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Poetry Flash, California Quarterly (CQ), Blue Window. Electrum, Sculpture Gardens Review, American Poetry Review, Mexico City News, & Oakland Museum Magazine. Her poetry has been translated and published in Spanish, Russian and Ukrainian. She has work forthcoming in Tin Ear and Maverick. Student poetry and art anthologies produced and edited by Maureen Hurley include: Poem for a Russian Child, The Gift of Dreams, A Night Full of Doves, The Power of the Reckless Sleeper, Still Writing on Rocks, Someone Inside Me, The Poem is the Person's Life, and  Seeds Deep in the Earth.

filed 9/12/03

Thursday, September 11, 2003


Today San Francisco is 42° warmer than average. How do you beat the heat? Today, during the height of the heatwave, I thought I was having a stroke, staggering around the house.

I fell into and out of the shower wanting to run away from my body, the way Hemmingway's cats did at Key West, only they were too tired to move and slouched across every cool tiled surface they could find. All 61 of them.

But the house I live in has carpets and wooden floors. Only the bathroom has tiles and it's hard to compute from the bathroom floor as the laptop is down.

So I kept thinking, maybe I'm dying, maybe I'm really sick. Maybe I really did get West Nile virus in south Florida. it was reported that there was an outbreak. Great, I'll get encephalitis.

I have headaches and I can't sleep and Diana keeps talking about the guy with encephalitis, who had to carry his gonads in a wheelbarrow. Well, no worries there.

So, I don't have sleeping sickness, I know that's from tze-tze flies. When I was in fifth grade I thought about these things a lot, you know. I worried about things like malaria and lockjaw. I was forever stepping on nails in the corral. So I was always checking to see if my jaw was locked. I couldn't imagine what kind of key it needed.

I imagined one exotic disease or another slaying me. I was like a young pre-med student with psychosomatic symptoms for every known disease known to man and woman.

I loved reading all about strange viruses and protozoa, thinking I was going to be a veterinarian when I grew up. Feverishly I studied scientific arcana, trying to beat the heat from some imagined illness.

An editor sends me a picture of glaciers. You can't beat that, she says.

My skin is splotched grey-green and red. People with too much iron have to get bled. It's a Celtic trait. We still live within the Iron Age.

Meanwhile, police helicopters circle overhead, it's a a new 9/11 legacy. Nonstop, red white and blue lights flashing in the night. Some legacy.

Someone asks: if your soul were a flower what kind would it be?

The cat is eating my tongue.

The full moon is eclipsing Mars. I can't take the unseasonable heat. The earth is heating up. The glaciers are melting.

We are still in the war zone. We never left.


Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Educating the Imagination

Maureen Hurley on Censorship

McCarthy in the Classroom?

Censorship has always been present in the classroom. As teachers and teaching writers, we are used to choosing which poems are appropriate for the end-of-the-year anthology, which story we will have a child revise for Parent Night. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s true. At its most harmless, censorship can operate to maintain equilibrium and respect. But since Columbine, and even more prevalently after the events of September 11th, censorshop and subtle forms of censure have begun to hinder educators in their efforts to teach creative writing.

One California teacher I spoke with expressed her concerns that school administrators (in conjunction with the courts) are gradually becoming the “thought police” of student writing. Write a scare story or a dark poem, and go to jail. The case of California student George “T.” is a compelling example. A San José Supreme Court appeal case this fall will test First Amendment rights when the court decides whether or not the 15-year-old student’s dark poetry constitutes a crime. The bizarre case of George “T.” is not an isolated one. Since Columbine, there has been a rising number if iuncidents in which school authorities and courts have arrested children for their art.

Homeland security and jingoism have only exacerbated the pressures on teachers. Since the war in Iraq began last winter, censorship has played out in myriad ways. One writing teacher in the Bay Area told how a colleage at his high scholl prohibited any student discussion that was critical of President Bush’s policies. The end result? A host of student poems containing retaliatory pro-war rhetoric. On a similar note, another teacher said her principal objected to the idea of student peace songs being a part of their annual spring concert, for fear that some parents might object.

While I have not encountered outright censorship in California schools, I noticed something more subtle occuring in my own writing residencies—in a word, self-censorship. For two year now, I have found myself walking on eggshells in order to assure school administrators that I am “safe.” But my students are scared of terrorism and war, and naturally their concerns emerge in their writing. And it is not merely fear they express, but pacifism. I have frequently been caught in the double bind of wanting to please school administrators on the one hand, and on the other— wanting to offer a safe haven for students to express themselves.

During the course of research for this article, I discovered that I was not alone. Several writing teachers expressed an almost palpable fear, an unspoken code for teachers not to mention the “unmentionable.” And while these fellow educators assured me that they were not being censored, their actions spoke louder than words. With the exception of one teacher who plans to retire this year, not one would allow their names to be used in this article, for fear of future repercussions from both their school administrators and from parents in the community.

What ways have teachers developed to deal with this situation? In my own workshops I have begun to use a method I call “redirection.” By this I mean that I search for equivalencies that allow my students to explore “dangerous” subjects in a more neutral way. For instance, I gave students bellicose poems from Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. I asked them to pen imaginary translations of them. This allowed them to funnel their concerns over contemporary events through the voice of a person from another culture and a distant time. The poem, “The Sword of Victory” (an imaginary “translation” from the Hittite by an Oakland sixth grader) demonstrates just how relevant this exercise can be:

War is a nightmare that never ends,
It’s not the blood of victory,
It’s always dirty by blood and tears.
There is no winning in war.
How can we fight for peace...?

I agree with poet Dana Lomax, who told me that “poetry unleashes stress in very real and honest ways.” It’s up to us to guide (not to control) the manner in which the emotion is unleashed. By choosing to assign a group list that repeats “peace is” (in lieu of “War is”) Dana’s first grade class was able to confront the same issue but with a less fearful, anxiety inducing outcome:

Peace is no fighting, no war, no guns.
Peace is your heart beating....
Peace is an ice cream sandwich...
Peace makes daisies bloom.
Peace makes friends and love happens.

First Grade Group Poem, Pacifica, CA

"One of our jobs is to pay attention to
And point out the uncivilized civility of
Everyday cruelty in language." ––Daryl Chinn

I also concur with poet and teacher Daryl Chinn of Arcata, CA, who added that: “one of our jobs is to pay attention and point out the uncivilized civility of everyday cruelty in language.” The job of the poet in the classroom is to civilize, to redirect violent or cruel thoughts and make something creative and graceful out of it. Daryl asks his students: “is it art or is it a rant? Then the real work begins—how to improve, to transform it.

William Carlos Williams famously wrote that it is difficult to get the news from poetry. During this uneasy time when our values are constantly being challenged, poetry is often the only clear voice of that can be heard above the hubbub of media overload. As we face new educational crises during the coming year, it is important to remember that the arts are not extra, they are an essential and integral part of the lifelong process known as the humanities. One of my sixth grade students summed up the job of the teacher when he wrote: “I am the breath of the people... I am the one who carries the heaviest dream for you.”


I was teaching at an alternative high school prior to and during the beginning of the war we waged and are continuing to wage on Iraq. I felt it was important to discuss and write about issues of identity, as well as community and national identity, since these seem to subsume any discussions about war. In one prewriting conversation we were talking about President Bush and his policies. I cannot remember exactly what I said, but one of my students quickly warned, “You better not let him [the main teacher] find out you said that. He doesn’t like it when anyone criticizes President Bush.” That gave me pause. Not so much for myself, but for my students who spent six hours a day with that teacher and were witnessing the build up and launching a major war—clearly no thought-provoking conversations were taking place in their classes…. That is my recent censorship tale. —Aja

Of course censorship is in our back yard. California, poetry, kids, you name it. What happens to them is what’s happening in the real world…. Poets are just barometers of everything else, remember, not the creators. Perhaps synthesizers.

I have an edgy long poem about about name-calling. I talked about it with my seventh-graders. Their reaction was, “Name-calling doesn’t mean so much when we do it.” We. It was an African American girl who said that. So if a 7th grader calls someone else by the n-word, it’s OK? I think of Wynton Marsalis, who, in an inspirational talk, said, “Hey, do you really want to get used to this?” He opined that ancient Romans, in gladiator days, must have gotten used to this talk: “Hey, did you notice how that tiger ate that gladiator today, head first. It was cool, better than last week, when the other tiger just tore the head of the other guy....” One of our jobs is to pay attention and point out the uncivilized civility of everyday cruelty in language.

Isn’t that the job of (poet) teachers, to civilize? To redirect violent and cruel thoughts into something creative and graceful?

There is, of course, an atmosphere of hatred and paranoia and fear: I don’t know what to do about the kind of writng you describe, except do things similar to what you do: redirect. Redirect. —Daryl Chinn

Outside of the overtly political realm, other situations come up that also require a degree self-censorship. I had a fourth grader whose mom died unexpectedly during my residency. He wrote a poem about finding her dead before school one morning. The poem came out of an exercise that emphasized sensory detail. He wrote, “There was no smell. There was no sound.” The last lines were something like: “She was very pale. She looked like a great queen.” Neither the teacher nor I knew exactly what to say. I think I told him it was strong work, asked him to come up with a title, and moved on.

It’s as if when poetry allows students to do exactly what we know it can—i.e. unleash the difficulties they encounter, in very real and honest ways—we (as poets and teachers) have to be careful about how we deal with the resultant intensity of feeling. I’m not sure what motivates this caution. What is the fear? Aren’t aggression, angst, “darkness,” lust, etc., all human traits? What is our role in opening young writers to these sides of themselves, or in shutting them down? —Dana Teen Lomax

From Teachers & Writers, September-October 2003, Volume 35, Number 1, “Educating the Imagination: McCarthy in the Classroom?” Page 15 –18

Maureen Hurley works for California Poets in the Schools and Young Audiences as an artist-in-residence teaching poetry and art. Her most recent publications include an essay in Writing the Rails: Train Adventures by the World’s best Loved Writers (Workman),, and two prose-poems about 9/11 can be read at

© 2003 Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 5 Union Square West, New York, New York 10003-3306

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Quake Notes 9/4/03

I felt the pre-quake coming from the northeast, I could hear it coming like an impossible train. Or maybe a hurricane. I knew right away it was an earthquake and I knew it was significant so the pre-rumble was a good warning, the earthquake came violently, with a bang.

I was worried that the apartments north of us would sway. They may have contributed to some of the pre-quake noise. It was rolling, like riding a barrel on a pond, I could feel the direction it came from. 

We took cover in doorways as things bent and swayed. And we counted the time it took to stop. Bright jars of Pepper Eggplant leapt from shelves and spun dizzily in the light  like startled large Hawaiian cockroaches.

I could tell it was a 4.0; at first it felt like a 3.5 but then by the end, I upgraded it to a 4 (chalk it up to experience). I could tell we were near the epicenter. There was a tiny afterquake. Less than a 2. What was weird was that we could feel it roll right through the house, like an underground beast going south. The actual quake was more  like an explosion, the pre-rollers like heavy trucks rolling down 580, which we live next to. The baby after-quake felt like shaking pudding. Chocolate.

7:45 PM.  Another jolt. Felt like it was about a 2 a very large horse nudging the house...again it came from the north. This 1926 cottage is wood framed. Balloon construction and stucco. Takes quakes well. We're on bedrock, right above Lake Merritt. I will expect more tremors. 

Much later, we'll find the cracks in the walls. Now we thank God it wasn't the Big One. Tonight I sleep with my jeans on, pockets loaded with keys, wallet and cell phone. Ready to go. For we sleep on the uneasy Hayward Fault. Stuck techtonic plates, a ticking timebomb.