Archive for June 2nd, 2010

Don’t look for her poems at

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Trained as a blacksmith, Elihu Burritt became a world traveler, a consul to England (appointed by Abraham Lincoln) and a reader of 50 languages – including Sanskrit.  All the languages were self-taught.  He opposed slavery.  He was an advocate for world peace.

Taylor Graham, an indirect descendent of his, has written more than 100 poems about him.  Sounds like an unpromising hobby for a 65-year-old woman?   Not so.

“Graham has worked outside the official world of poetry, and she has never been given anything like the attention she deserves,” said Dana Gioia, former head of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Dana knows her from way back:  When Dana was editor of Stanford’s literary review, Sequoia, he published one of her poems:  “Although it was a challenging and disturbing poem, it was so good that I knew we had to publish it,” he said.

Read the rest of the story at the Sacramento Bee here.  But for her poems?  Don’t try amazon — she’s not listed.  Try here instead.

Elihu Burritt

I happened to have on my bookshelf Dana’s anthology, California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present, and I can see what he meant.  “Challenging” and “disturbing” indeed — “Pieces of Henry” is about a serial killer.  I thought to quote “Chances,” but it is so short and tightly constructed that I can’t cite it without bringing the copyright hounds tearing after me.

The intro to her two poems describes her recent work in a “horror and traumatic fantasy” genre.  It’s obviously not her only genre.  Think of the Elihu Burritt poems.

Or her poems about animals. She’s worked with search-and-rescue dogs in Alaska.  In El Dorado County, she is active in protecting bluebird nesting areas.

A letter from “Anonymous Sam”

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Journalist Abebe Gellaw

I met Abe Gellaw two years ago during a reception for the Knight Journalism Fellows in the courtyard outside the Welton Gallery.  The exiled Ethiopian journalist, a founding editor of Addis Voice, told me about what it’s like to be a journalist in a developing country where censorship and persecution are commonplace.

Writing among my pets and my books with my Apple on my lap, it is easy to take for granted that I can tap out “This government sucks big time!” and press “publish” —  and yet not have my computer hacked or my fingers broken, or a thug on my doorstep the next morning.  I had meant to interview Abebe for the Book Haven, but the recent Ethiopian elections made it timely for a wider sendout — so here’s the website version of the interview.

Within hours after the interview went “live,” I received this letter:

Dear Cynthia,

Mr. Abebe Gellaw is an Opposition politician pretending to be a journalist. As most of the extremist Ethiopian politicians in the Diaspora, Mr Gellaw habitually engages in a smear campaign by completely fabricating facts or extremely exaggerating problems in Ethiopia. This has been the modus operandi of the Ethiopian extremist opposition for years, both in Ethiopia and abroad. The Ethiopian people have heard all their smear campaigns in the Western media as well as from the pathalogical LIARS in the Opposion in Ethiopia. As a result, the Ethiopian people have said ENOUGH is ENOUGH with ALL the lies and smear campaign and voted for the ruling party overwhelmingly. The outcome of this election for sure is partly due to the great achievements of the ruling party in the past 5 years, but it is also clearly a response to all the LIES and negative propaganda of the opposition. Trust me Cynthia, there is no way a party that is allegedly as repressive and cruel as these extremists claim can gain the support of the 99% of the voters. NO WAY!! The Ethiopian people are not IDIOTS! Cynthia, these guys make Michael Bachman look like a Saint. I wish you could understand Amharic so you could have listened their campaigns and debate performances. The result of this election is clearly a total rejection of HATE and SMEAR politics of the extremist opposition and an embrace of the positive politics of peace, economic and democratic development of the ruling party. Americans, Westerners in general, need to understand how much the extremist Opposition engages in hate and LIES in Ethiopian politics. I can safely say about 80% of their allegations are PURE lies. If you do understand the true nature of the vocal Ethiopian Oppositon as Ethiopians do, you can understand the decision of the Ethiopian people.

Sam (from America)

Generally, the world of cultural and literary journalism insulates me from notes like these. I googled Sam’s email address, and apparently I’m not his only penpal for these kinds of missives.  I wonder why he remains anonymous.  I’m not.  Abebe’s not.  And who is Michael Bachman?

Abebe’s only comment:  “The ruling party agents always use this kind of tactics whenever the regime is criticised. I receive many emails, some threatening. And I have one tactic to deal with them…Ignore!  That is the best and effective way not to dignify the voice of tyranny.”

Hey, Sam, lighten up!  Your side “won”!

UPDATE:  Second letter in the comment section was forwarded to me twice.  An excerpt:

“Scholars” like Abebe Gellaw and his ilk’s have no place in Ethiopia. These sluggards left Ethiopia not because they were persecuted but because they were unable to earn a living with their sweat. Cynthia you people in America can afford to sustain people like Michael Moore even makes him a multi-millionaire but no one have money in Ethiopia for such kind of jokes. You people can afford to spend money on Stupid White Men, Bowling for Columbine, Sicko and George Bush is bad Obama is good fairy tales. What Abebe Gellaw and his ilks are fishing for is funding from foreign sources so that they could make Michael Moore look like a Mahatma Gandhi.

(Warning:  The BBC url’s he attaches don’t say entirely what he thinks they say…)