Sonnet 18 Revisited, a poem

Shall I compare thee to a summer sweat?

Thou art more sticky, unwanted and unpleasant.

Rough wings smelling of piss do flow wild as you speak,

And your public lease is illegitimate.

Sometimes too hot your words break,

And often is other complexions marked to for sin.

And every justice spirited.

By chance our natures changing course, you win,

But summer swelters always end.

No power you have is fair, throughout!

And death will grab you, gold will not ascend,

When eternal lines to time thrown out.

So long as we can breathe or see,

You are ruing my life’s prosperity.

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It’s Wrong When It Stops Being Fun, A Poem

A wise man once said “It’s wrong when it stops being fun.”

Well, I have to ask myself, has it?

Has pining over the right word and cadence lost its spark?

What, except the dark cloud that seeps its invisible cloak on my psyche,

Keeps me from putting all for the gods and earthly kind to see,

to hear,

to learn the truth.

Poetry is not supposed to be work,

or is that too bourgeois?

I say poetry like anything can be rebranded for the worst,

but poetry is thought, the one thing that cannot be erased.

Poetry, is something to make all our own.

So, has it stopped being fun?

Not by a long shot.

What is Socialist Art?

It is very true that one cannot always go by the principles of Marxism in deciding whether to reject or accept a work of art. A work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art. But Marxism alone can explain why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a given period of history; in other words, who it was made a demand for such an artistic form… – Literature and Revolution, pg. 150

Recently I was attempting to answer the question,”what is socialist art?” as a theoretical response to Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution. I had just finished the book and was working on a piece that would be an attempt to expand his application of a Marxist lens towards the arts by contemporizing it for socialists here in the 21st century. Originally I started off with the question, “what is socialist art?” However I found that I could not answer the question until I answered a more pressing one, “what is arts place in the Revolution?” Since I have now established that art indeed has a place in Revolution with my previous blog post, I will now attempt to answer my original question. What is socialist art?

Arguably Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution is the most influential piece of Marxist literary theory. It was arguably the first application of Marxism towards the arts and it paved the way for the likes of Terry Eagleton. Communists such as myself who came to leftism through their study of literary theory owe the existence of their Marxist lens to this text.

Although it was written almost a century ago, Literature and Revolution still provides us with two central principles that can be applied if we are to look at art through a socialist lens. In order to determine, “what is Socialist art?” we must look at art as socialists. It should be noted that the terms Marxist, socialist, communist, and leftist are used interchangeably in this piece, as they are in most of my work. It should also be noted that Trotsky uses the term “proletarian art” as opposed the term “socialist art.” In this piece the terms will be used interchangeably because art that is inherently proletarian is art that in-turn inherently socialist.

Literature and Revolution offers use two principles that can be used to determine what is socialist art. The first is that the proletariat are capable of understanding art, and that it is the bourgeoise who have controlled the economy of art, but their control does not mean the proletariat are not interested in art.

In addition to that, Trotsky’s work demonstrates art, like anything in historical dialectics, are subject to the economics of its time and place and therefore serves as a reflection of history and culture from where the art comes from. Therefore proletarian art will reflect proletarian culture. Trotsky argues that this proletarian culture needed to be developed by the proletariat after Revolution was achieved. However this is not so today. Unlike Trotsky and the bolsheviks who were rebuilding a culture from scratch, there is already a rich existence of anticapitalist traits in contemporary art.

Proletarian art is one that is reflective of the proletariat in the time and place they exist. Whereas bourgeoise art is always indulgent for the sake of indulgence proletarian art is always one that is expressive. Consider the artists who create for arts sake versus the working class artists who produce art not for profit but for the sake of their own self expression, or for the reclamation of their colonized culture.

Jeff Koons and Damien Herst are more likely to produce indulgent and pretentious sculptures for the sake of a high price tag, whereas a Chicano or Chicana street artist is likely to graffiti a mural to express their outrage over their coopted or ignored cultures. Another fine example of anti capitalism in art is the legend of Banksy, a person who shreds his art if it ever appears for sale at Sothebys. Proletarian art is art that rejects the bourgeoisie or the racist patriarchy they uphold, rather than cater to them.

However what is most important to consider is the amount of people who draw, write poetry, blog, make videos, jam with friends, all without seeking a profit. The fact that art is a form of therapy, a form of community, a form of cultural reclamation, a form of resistance, and a form of self expression demonstrates that the masses, and therefore the proletariat, are both interested and capable of being involved in the world of art. Therefore the “art world” should not be controlled by a single class but should be something that benefits the collective.

Proletarian art is about radical self expression, bourgeois art is self expression to appease an already affluent class. Proletarian art is not just self expression of an individual artistic proletarian but rather it is a self expression that rejects bourgeois influence and the oppressive systems within that influence. Art that rejects the bourgeoisie and the systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism are all arguably manifestations of socialist art.

Bourgeois art however is expressive of the artists individual politics through its indulgence. To put it plainily, art for arts sake is art that is art that accepts the status quo. Since the status quo is one of oppression, indulgent bourgeois art is art that is complacent with oppression. For example the art of the impressionists, while technically masterful, were created to appease a petite bourgeois art world. In Literature and Revolution Trotsky points out that while bourgeois artists are often obsessed and even mystify the peasantry, they ignore the reality of their industrial proletarian neighbor. “Our old literature and “culture” were the expressions of the nobleman and the bureaucrat, and were based on the peasant.”(pg 30)

In other words bourgeoisie artists romanticize elements of the working class but refuse to incorporate the reality of their struggle into their world. This is still true today and can be seen in the bourgeoisies co-opting of street art and graffiti art.

Street artist Bansky hid a shredder in this frame and activated it when his piece sold for over $1 million at Sothebys in 2018

Proletarian art is also art that is created in response to the bourgeoisie power and all of its manifestations, whether it be colonization, patriarchy, or the overall class system. The murals of Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, Zapata, Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta that grace the walls of buildings in Compton, Watts, East LA, Oakland, and South Sacramento are all examples of the modern working class using art to fight bourgeoise oppression. Indigenous and African artists who are keeping the arts of their colonized people alive should be welcomed as socialist art as well. The fact that art is used by so many for so many different purposes reflects the truth that the proletariat are both capable and interested in the intellectual properties of art.

There is also the agitational element of political street art like Banksy’s or in the cultural expressions of non white street artists. There is also the agitational effort we see in feminist art. Art that puts the reality of sexwork or the reality of attacks on women’s bodies should be included in our definition of proletarian art as well, for women are the most exploited of workers and any art that reflects that reality is inherently a rejection of the bourgeoisie definition of art. The same goes for art produced to agitate and express the realities of being trans, non binary, or gay. All art that is born out of a rejection of capitalist oppression must be included in our definition of proletarian art.

Fridha Khalo’s “Henry Ford Hospital, 1932”

If socialist art is art that rejects the bourgeoisie’s control of art, then socialist art should elevate oppressed cultures and people. This is because art is a reflection of the times and place it is produced no matter what. Considering we live in explicitly racist, sexist, transphobic, and queer-phobic times, proletarian art should both reflect that and reject the status quo that enables these cultural constructs of capitalism. There is also the reality that art and cultures have always been around but all in someway or another all cultures and art forms have been forced to respond to capitalist oppression. That is proletarian art, black poetry slams, indigenous art, street art, or any art that exists because of a rejection of the capitalist status quo.

Unlike Trotsky in the USSR we do not need to re-define art we need to use it to elevate our working class. We simply must reject the notion that the art we put up in galleries and museums to honor famous artists is the only manifestation of art. All we need to do to determine “what is socialist art?” is to bring in the arts that have already been born out of their rejection of capitalism. This is not only possible but it is already happening, artists have been creating to reject capitalism even as Trotsky was writing Literature and Revolution over a century ago, what has not been attempted is a general contemporary categorization of socialist art. However even Trotsky himself pointed this out in the text;

“themes migrate from people to people, from class to class, and even from author to author. This means only that the human imagination is economical. A new class does not begin to create all of culture from the beginning, but enters possession of the past, assorts it, touches it up, rearranges it, and builds on it further. If there were no such utilization of the “secondhand” wardrobe of the ages, historic processes would have no progress at all.” – Literature and Revolution pg 149

In conclusion, the proletariat are already creating their own art for means of self expression, political agitation, therapy, and cultural resistance. Whereas Trotsky’s Revolution had to create a proletarian culture, today a proletarian culture already exists in the numerous oppressed peoples under contemporary capitalism. Therefore our proletariat art is the art of our oppressed masses, of people who have either been denied their culture or denied access to the culture created by the bourgeoisie. Socialist art can be any medium, but it must either be about reclaiming culture or rejecting the oppressive pillars of capitalist culture. So the ultimate answer to my question, “what is socialist art?” is art that actively works to reject capitalism and the oppressive structures that capitalism brings.

Poetry’s Place in the Revolution: The Rant of a Socialist Poet

God fucking cock sucking mother fucking damnit!

Quite a poetic opening am I right? Yes a bit blunt but to be honest I am in a foul mood. I started off the year strong by getting published twice in one month, but ever since June it has been a series of pitches and rejection letters.

I start my work days by checking email, and to be honest I am just getting tired of opening my inbox only to find reasons why literary journals don’t want to publish my poems about the heart, the body, the soul of the creatives in revolution.

Poetry and art are all about putting what is in the heart, mind, body, and soul into a tangible thing for others to experience.

I am a socialist, an organizer and proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America. I love my organization because we are only as good as the work our members put into it, and I love to work. My place in this organization was like a hand in a glove (cliche I know but still) but what has escaped me is a very important question:

What is art’s place in the revolution?

I know some of you might be thinking, “But James, this has nothing to do with your rejection letters!”

I’m getting to that. I am a writer and I will do whatever it takes to make my living doing this. Prior to my complete radicalization, my incorporation of a material analysis into my world view, I was very much just hoping to be one of the next great poets. Someone whose words would just resonate with the times they are in and become a controversial definition of the days it was written. The next Shakespeare, the next Allen Ginsberg, that was what I wanted to be.

But then I realized something, I was creating just to create. I was writing in a totally self expressive way with no political motivation behind my words. “Art for art’s sake” was my original motto, but now I see that does not exist yet. That can never exist as long as the arts are commodified, as long as creatives are at the mercy of wealthy patrons and publishers who want to control the tone of our cultural and political dialogue.

What is the place of the poet, the artist, the filmmaker in revolution? It is not as propaganda agents of a worker’s state as some may believe. No, their place in the revolution is to bring truth to the masses. Their job is to express truth in ways that the petty bourgeoisie artists of the status quo, in other words “hacks”, cannot.

That is what my poetry is about, asking and answering the question about what art or poetry can and should do to aid us on the March of History.

So that is what I write, that is what I pitch to publishers and literary journals.

And what do they publish instead?

Corny hacks who write poems about cookies and daffodils and memories of an over privileged childhood in a way that is so over the top and self indulgent that it would make even Marcel Proust vomit.

I rest my case.

Three Napkins I Scribbled My Soul On

Recently as I was filing my chaotic pile of notes that clog my writing desk I came across three napkins with sporadic red sharpie on it. I remembered that last summer I was at a huge party to see a friend’s band. In a fit of something I have yet been able to describe with words I wrote down this stream of consciousness on the materials available to me, which as I said were a sharpie and napkins. I read the gibberish on them and decided that they offer a good look into what is going on in my head, constantly, all the time, every day. Even at a super fun raging party filled with stuff I like.

What is the point of all this,

What am I doing here?

What is the point of these kinds of gatherings,

Is there even one?

Perhaps that’s the point.

The goal.

The goal is to have no goal, no aim.

Just release.

Freedom.

Sigh,

Why am I so deep in my own head?

Why can’t it just shut off

And just be tonight?

Probably the weed?

Who care, it

Doesn’t matter.

I am enjoying this.

I am enjoying streaming the

River that is my thought

My consciousness

Onto these sheets of scrap.

Who cares, do what you love,

Fuck the rest.

“Freedom.”

Now there is a word that is bastardized by the right.

That is what reactionaries do.

They just take words.

Words,

Words that matter, words that are important,

Words WE need.

and they bastardize them.

This is what went on in my head at a fun party, full of drinks and weed and good friends, yet this is what was rushing through my mind. Maybe it was just the effects of being so goddamn crossfaded that night, but I don’t think it was, because even without liquor or weed in my system this is what is constantly ringing in my intuition’s ear. This is what my mind is doing all day, every day, without stopping.

My Recent Car Wreck; Trauma Will Not Win

Like many young writers who play the professional game I picked up a part time job for some extra cash and experience to keep my resume flowing while I still look for the door to kick in and put my foot. I started canvassing for rent control in the city of Sacramento and felt wonderful about it. The hours were flexible, I was working with friends from the DSA, BLM and the other organizations as a part of a cause I whole heartedly believe in. I was getting a work out from walking door to door, it was everything a young writer needed.

Then, on Wednesday March 21, 2018 at approximately 945pm, as I drove home from a normal shift, it all happened.

A sedan in front of me was going 30 mph in a 40mph zone, both of us were in the right hand lane. I merged into the left lane and raised my speed to somewhere between 40-50 mph to pass the car, who I see in my mirror has slowed down because they were texting. I merge back into the right lane, then within ten seconds my windshield shatters, my airbags explode, and a loud series of thuds batters my car into a circle off the road like the Hell’s Angles stomping a narc.

Somehow I had lost control, spun out, and hit a tree on the side of the road. Within ten seconds, my leisurely drive home was to turn into one of the most traumatic ordeals of my life. Within ten seconds my right hand was full of glass, my neck throbbing with whiplash, and my legs trapped under the dash.

Yet I never hit my head, I never lost consciousness, I never went into a panic, at least not until I realized I was trapped and my door would not open.

The impact had shattered my drivers side window, when I realized I was stuck and that the smoke from the engine was growing I bellowed out onto the street. “Help! I was just in a major car accident and I’m trapped! Can somebody help me, please!?”

Within seconds, a man in a blue sweatshirt caring the mascot of a sports team, I cannot remember if it was pro or college, was by my window.

“Hey, are you okay?” he said.

“I think so.” I knew it was only because of the shock, but at this point I felt no pain, and could not think about anything else except getting out of that car.

He proceeded to ask me what happened and while trying to suppress my panic I told him the details as I told you. He assured me I was okay, and he also assured me that I seem pretty cognizant so he didn’t think I was drunk, which I wasn’t. He kept me calm, and called the paramedics, and stayed with me until they arrived.

While we waited he introduced himself to me, “What is your name?”

“James,” I told him, my voice cracking because I felt like a frightened child who just needed an adult, any adult.

“Hi James, I’m Philipe, you’re going to be okay, I’m right here and the paramedics are on their way.”

Philipe, you are a total stranger and you might have saved my life. If you are reading this, contact me. Needless to say I owe you one.

Soon after three cars had stopped and pulled over. One stayed on the corner by the street with flashers on to keep other cars from hitting me. The two other people stayed by me to keep me calm. I never screamed in agony or hyperventilated, I never did anything accept breath and trust my life to these strangers, I felt there was no other way I could survive the situation.

The paramedics and fire department arrived. They shattered the glass on the passenger side to get the car unlocked, but still the jaws of life were needed to pry open the door to get me out.

Once out, I realized I could put no weight on my ankle, so I was immediately put on the gurney and taken to UC Davis Trauma Center. Of course once your on the gurney they could be taking you to Mexico for all you know.

Once you are on the gurney, all you can do is look up, you can see nothing from side to side or even your own feet. I have no idea what roads they took to get me to the trauma center and once there I had no idea where I was going when escorted from room to room. The blood on my hands had dried to a horror film prop crust. The neck brace was chaffing to say the least. I had no control over anything, I do not like that.

The intake nurse made an insulting joke about how I was lucky I only had one beer, and next time I should “use uber.” The paramedics reassured me that I was fine, that they knew I wasn’t drunk, and that nurse was an asshole. I do not want to obsess over it, but I will say that I hope this nurse gets fired, you do not make jokes to patients in the trauma intake center.

I do not want to relive the rest of that night, I do not want to go into all the details because the details are the hell that traumatized me and I just don’t want to relive it, not now or ever again. I will say that all the other staff at UC Davis trauma center were very kind, very understanding, very tender, all of which I needed at the time.

The night was a series of tests, and waiting, and tests, and waiting. Waiting, alone in cold sterile rooms warmed only by a set of blankets haphazardly stacked on me. Waiting. Locked in a position unable to sit up because you aren’t allowed. Waiting, stuck looking only at the lights and ceiling tile because of a neck brace, then more x-rays and tests. All getting wheeled to an from, never knowing exactly where or for what test. Waiting.

When I first arrived and the doctors started their first tests, just after stripping me of my clothes, a social worker asked who they should call. I gave them my mother’s name and both phone numbers. I did everything I could to share every detail I could whenever I was asked a question, no matter what the question was.

I went into detail with the paramedics about Sacramento’s Rent Control Movement that I had been working on when they asked about my job in the ambulance. I told the nurses about the Irish Socialist themed birthday party I had on St. Patrick’s day when they asked me about what I did on St Patty’s, and when it came to the important stuff, my name my address and phone number I made sure to give as stringently and calmly as I could. I think I was doing that to prove that I was still cognizant, still aware of the situation, still myself. I do not know if it was to prove it to them or myself, but I think maybe I just wanted to prove to myself that I was still here, as if knowing that I was conscious would remind me that I can get better. That I will get better.

My parents arrived after my first x-rays, all I could do was cry when I saw my mother. A cry like a child cries when he wants his mom to make all the pain go away. “I just want to go home.” I told her as she took my hand with tears flooding my face, “I just want to go home.”

I was not released until 5am. My poor mother had to call in a substitute teacher for her class that morning and my father was passed out until 10am the next morning. My poor father, a disabled person himself and he compensates his nerves with humor, he is the kind of person to laugh when he is anxious. The whole time in the ER where he had a lot of time just waiting he was fidgety, making comments he should not have, but he knew no other way to process the situation. He has a bad history with car wrecks, at my age he was in a similar situation, he was hit on his motorcycle by a drunk driver near Torrance, CA. He almost lost his leg and because it was poor working class hippie versus rich Cadillac drunk driving estate agent, CHP wanted to cite my dad for being in his way. Not twenty years later, my father lost his own father in an auto accident that is shrouded in mystery. My grandfather had issues, so many issues that some of us wonder if this death was actually an accident. The point is between my grandpa, my dad, and myself we are three for three for car wrecks. I do not think that was an easy thing to process and a legacy I hope ends with me.

My mother has been in Mom-mode ever since. Like when I was sick as a boy, she has been doing everything to make me comfortable, but not only that, she is keeping my father grounded because I know this traumatizes him in a way the rest of the family just will never get.

Then there was my sister, my poor sister. She loves and supports me so dearly, for her to see me in that state in the ER, for her to think she might have lost me that night, I cannot imagine what she felt. My sister is an Empath, yes like in Star Trek, she can just look at someone and feel what they are feeling, I know she felt my pain that night and I wish I wasn’t in pain, because then she wouldn’t be either. Later, she was not pleased because the day after the accident I made a point of showing up to city hall and the outskirts of the Golden 1 arena for the Stephon Clark protest. Yes, I was there even with a broken ankle, a bruised lung, and whiplash. We all have our own ways to heal, mine is to keep going. My wounds will heal, Stephon Clark won’t.

My road to recovery could be long or short, I am still not sure. All I know is that in a matter of seconds everything about who I was was taken from me, and that I never realized how dependent on being an able bodied person I was for my identity. I know I will recover, be it weeks or months I will walk again and march again. I did not get the word “Invictus” tattooed on my arm just because it looks cool, I got it to remind myself that I am strong, that I am unconquerable. Yes, I am traumatized. When I am alone for too long I have flashbacks to the accident, to the total loss of control and the moment that the thuds came thundering onto my van. But I will not let this trauma define me. I know this passage has been mostly about pain, fear, and a loss of control that I had never experienced before, but I am not despairing over a few boo boos. I will not let a simple twist of sad and painful fate rob me of who I am. I will recover, I will be fine. But what I will never understand is the how, or the why I survived.

All the paramedics said I was lucky. That when they saw the car they “expected the worst,” and were amazed I was conscious. The doctors and nurses all said the same thing. I do feel lucky. I don’t when the cast on my ankle itches or when the pain meds where off and it throbs but I do feel lucky, and curious.

How the hell did I survive that? How the hell did I not hit my head on the air bag? And why? Is there a why to my survival? Is the God that I do not believe in telling me my life really does have a purpose? Do I just have enough good karma that when the bad things happen to me they aren’t as bad as they could be? Or am I just so lucky that I ought to take a road trip to Reno or Vegas when I recover? I do not know, and to be honest I do not want to care. I do not want to care about the, “Why did I survive?” but I do. Every time I close my eyes and relive the crash, whether I want to think about it or not, I always come back to that question, “Why the hell did I live? Is there even a why?”

I firmly believe in Occam’s razor, that the simplest solution is probably the correct one. What is the simplest answer to my question, “Why did I survive?” Well in my opinion it’s “Because you still have work to do.” I will not trifle myself with questions about meaning or God, the way I see it I survived. Yes, I need to slow down, to recover, but I survived, so I can keep going, because like I said I have work to do.