My Poetry Corner April 2021 features the poem “Cruel Radiance” from the debut poetry collection A Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon Press, 2020) by Cambodian American poet Monica Sok. Born in 1990 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sok is the daughter of refugees. She is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University and teaches poetry to Southeast Asian youth at the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants in Oakland, California.
Sok dedicates her poetry collection to her grandmother Bun Em who arrived in the USA in 1981, two years after escaping genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime with her four daughters and two sons. A master silk weaver, Bun Em’s loom, grief, joy, and perseverance infuse Sok’s real and imagined collective memory.
In “The Weaver,” Sok transforms her grandmother’s grief into nourishment for others around her. It made her happy / as she worked on silk dresses / and her hair never ran out. / Sometimes, when she was tired, / she’d tie it up / and let all the tired animals around her house / drink from her head. Her loom becomes an old friend and an ancestor she prays to in the poem “Ode to the Loom.” Her grief is re-imagined as nails falling like rain in the darkness, so that when her hair falls / not as rain does / but as nails the evening hangs on, / and her hands slip no longer / from silk but on walls in the dark / hall to her room…
As the daughter of genocide survivors, Sok grew up with familial silence. Her poems came out of silence, she told Danny Thanh Nguyen during an interview in May 2020. “I’m writing about the genocide, but I’m writing more about the inheritance of that trauma…. I had to give myself the permission to write the stories and I went into myth-making, tried to mythologize my family’s narratives.” But the narratives are not just about her family’s experience, she noted. Rather, she was working towards a collective history of all Cambodian families.
Rape myths are a key component of what we now call “rape culture.” “What were you wearing?” and “why didn’t you report it?” are two classic rape myth questions that “Me Too” survivors face. Rape myths also have a geography. This gets embedded into the mental map of safety and danger that every woman carries in her mind. “What were you doing in that neighbourhood? At that bar? Waiting alone for a bus?” “Why were you walking alone at night?” “Why did you take a shortcut?” We anticipate these questions and they shape our mental maps as much as any actual threat. These sexist myths serve to remind us that we’re expected to limit our freedom to walk, work, have fun, and take up space in the city. They say: The city isn’t really for you.
Excerpt from Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World by Leslie Kern, Verso, London/UK and New York/USA, 2020. First published in Canada in 2019 by Between the Lines, Toronto, Canada.
On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, after leaving a friend’s house around 9:00 p.m., 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard disappeared during her walk home in south London. Her remains were found seven days later in a large builder’s bag in a wooded area more than 50 miles from where she was last seen. The man charged with her kidnapping and murder is a 48-year-old Metropolitan Police officer.
Leslie Kern, an urban geographer, is an Associate Professor of Geography and Environment and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. She has a doctorate in gender, feminist, and women’s studies from York University in Toronto. She does research on gender and cities, gentrification, and environmental justice. She is the author of Sex and the Revitalized City: Gender, Condominium Development, and Urban Citizenship. Born in Toronto, Canada, she has also lived in London and New York City.
My Poetry Corner March 2021 features the poem “The woman without a name” (A mulher sem nome) from the poetry collection Lot’s Wife (A mulher de Ló) by Carlos Machado, a Brazilian poet and journalist. Born in 1951 in Muritiba, Bahia, Northeast Brazil, Machado earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Federal University of Bahia. He studied journalism at the Faculty of Cásper Libero in São Paulo, where he lived for forty years before returning to his home state of Bahia in 2020. He is the creator and editor of the fortnightly bulletin, poesia.net, in which he promotes contemporary Brazilian poets.
Machado’s poetry collection Lot’s Wife, published in 2018, reflects his deep concern for the condition of women. In support of the feminist movement, he is involved in studying the causes and means of combating the increasing incidents of violence against women in Brazil. The biblical story of Lot’s wife is a story of violence against a woman whose only crime was that of looking back.
For readers unfamiliar with the biblical story told in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, chapter 19, the God of Abraham destroys the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sinful ways. Two angels warn Abraham’s nephew Lot, living in Sodom, of the coming cataclysm. They instruct him to flee with his family and not to look back until they had reached the next town. Only Lot’s wife and two daughters heed the warning. Other members of Lot’s extended family refuse to join them, declaring it fake news. We don’t know why Lot’s wife looks back as they leave Sodom. We know only that her punishment is immediate and severe: She is transformed into a pillar of salt. Silenced.
Okay, since this is supposed to be a feel-good blog post, I’m not going to bury you in plastic statistics the way we are ourselves being buried in the real thing, but I will shed a dash of light on it by repeating a few plastics facts you may already be privy to:
In the 70 years since plastics entered the consumer market, almost 9 billion tons have been created, 92% of which was not recycled and still exists on the planet in some form;
two million single-use plastic bags are distributed worldwide every minute — that have an average working life of a mere 15 minutes — are distributed worldwide every minute;
the straw you got with your drink at lunch will live for hundreds of years in the ocean, and 500 million of them are used everyday in America alone, enough to circle the world twice ;
one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute and only about 30% of them will be recycled;
at our current rate of production, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, much of it as microplastics which break down from the original due to photodegradation.
The point of repeating these stats is that we can’t cover our eyes any longer. The overuse of plastics is a global problem that requires immediate attention. Yes, yes, every telemarketer that ever calls…
Pam Lazos is an environmental attorney serving as Senior Assistant Regional Counsel at the at the USEPA Region 3 office in Philadelphia where she works enforcing matters under the Clean Water Act and USEPA Region 3 office in Philadelphia where she works enforcing matters under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. She is also an author, a blogger for the Global Water Alliance, creator of the Safe Drinking Water Act. She is also an author, on the Board as VP of Communications for the Global Water Alliance, creator of the literary eco-blog www.greenlifebluewater and serves on the editorial board of the wH2O Journal.
I am no computer systems geek. So, imagine my consternation on January 25th when I received an email from Yahoo Small Business regarding the latest change in their webhosting services. Since 2007, I have been using their Yahoo SiteBuilder to power my business website, rosalienebacchus.com. The monthly fee for their webhosting services is a good fit for my super-tight budget. With the assistance of Richard Wagner’s book, Yahoo! SiteBuilder for Dummies, I managed to create and maintain my own website. Whatever it lacked in professional appearance, my website attracted numerous visitors for its rich content for those interested in doing business with the United States and Brazil.
Over the years, I survived the disruption and frustration of each upgrade to the Yahoo SiteBuilder editor. That is all in the past now. Beginning this coming March 31, Yahoo will discontinue support for the system powering my website. While I still clung to the old and familiar, the company had moved on to newer website creation tools. They are putting the old editor to rest. My website will become an orphan.
After D-Day, I will no longer be able to edit or update my website. “You must create a new website,” Yahoo informed me. They provided me with two options: make a new business website myself or use a team of experts to build my website. Neither option appealed to me.
After nine days of resisting the inevitable, I emailed Yahoo Small Business enquiring about maintaining my domain name and links to the vast content on my soon-to-be-orphaned website. Both needless concerns: I have received no response to date.
With trepidation a week later, I clicked the link provided to learn more about creating my own website. Fear of the unfamiliar is a terrible master. I can do this, I assured myself. Each breakthrough was cause for celebration. As I got better at creating new pages, I even had fun with the creative process. I had to let go of my international trade content and focus on creating an author’s website. For over six years now, I no longer provide international trade services. The time to move on had long passed.
On February 26th, carefully following Yahoo’s information guide, I successfully published my website using the same domain: www.rosalienebacchus.com. My new author’s website is filled with photographs and empty spaces. The website Menu is also not fixed, which I find a nuisance. My son, an electronic games designer, explained that these features facilitate viewing on the smaller laptops and smart phones.
My Home Page features my journey to becoming a writer as well as a link to an interview with Guyanese-Canadian author Ken Puddicombe in which I share my writing process. I hope that the reviews and praise provided on the page promoting my debut novel, Under the Tamarind Tree, will entice more readers to buy my book. For those readers wishing to learn more, my website also offers “Behind the Scenes” information about my debut novel.
Snapshots and links to my Short Stories, published on the Guyana Journal website, are also available for free reading. I have yet to determine how I will archive my monthly featured poets on my Poetry Corner. I am still in the learning process. Creating the dropdown box for “Behind the Scenes” was a major achievement. Yay!
My Poetry Corner February 2021 features the poem “Islands” from the poetry collection, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy, by the Caribbean poet and historian Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1930-2020). Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, into a middle-class family, he won a British scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge. There he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1953 and gained a diploma in education the following year.
Brathwaite’s illusions of regarding himself as a British citizen were shattered on arrival in the Mother Country. He felt “rootless” and, like other British colonial West Indians of the time, he was ready to become an “Afro-Saxon.” This changed when he took a job as an Education Officer in Ghana, then the West African colony of the Gold Coast. For him, it was a spiritual homecoming. The eight years (1955 to 1962) that he spent travelling to villages across the country also expanded his thinking about history, culture, and ways of perceiving the world.
On returning to the Caribbean, he held teaching posts at the University of the West Indies, first in St. Lucia, and then in Kingston, Jamaica. While working in Jamaica, he began writing Rights of Passage, his first poetry collection, later published in 1967. Set in the Caribbean, the collection traces the movement of the black people’s dispossession of their African homeland, the sufferings of the Middle Passage and slavery, and struggle to find their footing in the new world and beyond. The people lament in “New World A-Comin’”:
It will be a long time before we see
this land again, these trees
again, drifting inland with the sound
of surf, smoke risingIt will be a long time before we see
these farms again, soft wet slow green
again: Aburi, Akwamu,
The psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon Black women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. […] If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.
The year 2017 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Combahee River Collective Statement, which introduced to the world terms such as “interlocking oppression” and “identity politics.” The Combahee River Collective (CRC) was a radical Black feminist organization formed in 1974, growing out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It was named after Harriet Tubman’s 1853 raid on the Combahee River in South Carolina that freed 750 enslaved people.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylorwrites on Black politics, social movements, and racial inequality in the United States. Her book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation won the 2016 Lannan Cultural Freedom Award for an Especially Notable Book. Her articles have been published in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, Jacobin, New Politics, The Guardian, In These Times, Black Agenda Report, Ms., International Socialist Review, and other publications. Taylor is Assistant Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University.
According to the NOAA National Climate Report 2020, issued on January 12, 2021, last year was the most active wildfire year on record across the West. In California, thousands of firefighters battled five of the six largest wildfires in our state’s history. Nearly 10,000 fires burned over 4.2 million acres. The August Complex fire alone burned over 1 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. In Colorado, three extensive wildfires, burning over 500,000 acres, also broke the state’s historical record.
For 2020, the average temperature of 54℉ (12.2℃) for the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) ranks as the fifth warmest year in the last 126 years on record. On August 16th, temperatures soared to 130℉ (54.4℃) in California’s Death Valley—the hottest CONUS temperature recorded in 2020. Most of the contiguous U.S. experienced above average temperatures. Ten states across the Southwest, Southeast, and East Coast had their second-warmest year on record.
East Coast residents also faced several record-breaking storm events. Thirty named storms formed in the Atlantic Ocean, breaking the record of 28 set in 2005. Tropical storms Cristobal, Marco, Laura, Delta, and Zeta made landfall in Louisiana, the most storms on record for any state in one year. Hurricane Laura generated a storm surge of over 17 feet (5.16 meters) above ground level, which would be the largest on record for Louisiana.
The Midwest was not spared. In August 2020, the region was hit by a historic derecho, a destructive thunderstorm complex. The derecho raced across the Central States, causing damages estimated at $11 billion, the costliest to hit the region in four decades.
Perhaps, like me, you have not yet experienced loss of property, livelihood, or a loved one due to some climate disaster. Yet, we the working people all suffer the consequences of the economic costs of these weather and climate disasters. America’s annual loss in 2020 exceeded $95 billion, the fourth highest cost on record. Twenty-two of these events caused losses amounting to more than $1 billion each, shattering yet another annual record of 16 events made in 2011 and 2017. The total cost of U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters over the last five years (2016-2020) exceeds a record $600 billion.
Unless we change the way we live and work, these weather and climate disaster events will continue to intensify and cripple our state and local economies, already under stress due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. On the upside, the lockdown and reduced economic activities in the U.S. and worldwide have led to a drop in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But, it is just a short-term reduction.
At the time of completing their Emissions Gap Report 2020, released on December 9, 2020, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that 126 countries, covering just 51 percent of global GHG emissions have net-zero goals that are formally adopted, announced, or under consideration. If the U.S. adopts a net-zero GHG target, as announced by the Biden Administration, the share would increase to 63 percent.
Apart from the USA, only ten other G20 members have set net-zero emission goals by 2050: Argentina, Canada, China (before 2060), European Union, France, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Based on pre-COVID-19 projections, only nine G20 members are on track to achieve their unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Without a firm commitment to significantly reduce GHG emissions, as set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, we the people of Earth will face a temperature increase of at least 3℃ (37.4℉) by the end of this century.
As at October 2020, global COVID-19 fiscal spending continued to promote high-carbon economic production. In planning the recovery from COVID-19, governments worldwide have an opportunity to catalyze low-carbon lifestyle changes by disrupting entrenched practices. (Clearing forests to rear cattle for beef consumption comes to mind.) Based on UNEP’s consumption-based accounting, around two-thirds of global emissions are linked to private household activities. Moreover, the richest One Percent of the world’s population account for more than twice the combined share of emissions of the poorest 50 percent. The report further notes that our participation as members of civil society is essential to bring about wider changes in the social, cultural, political, and economic systems in which we live. We have to change our lifestyles if we are to bridge the emissions gap. (Emphasis is mine.)
Watch the UNEP’s video, “Emissions Gap: A Turning Point,” released on December 9, 2020 (duration 1:35 minutes):
Change is inevitable. More so when we set the change into motion. In 2020, COVID-19 forced us into lockdown mode, bringing the global economy to a standstill. In the USA, our inability as a nation to agree on a strategy to combat a highly contagious, mutating, deadly foe will cost us more lives. Our economic recovery will take longer. Meanwhile, time is running out on tackling a global climate crisis that is gathering force with each passing day. Staying safe in place may not be an option.
“It is the policy of my Administration that climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security,” said President Biden.
In his Administration’s commitment to addressing the global climate crisis, he also confirmed the appointment of former Secretary of State John Kerry as America’s first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.
Another first will be the establishment of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Headed by the Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor, the Climate Policy Office will coordinate the domestic policy-making process and monitor its implementation nationwide. The National Climate Adviser will also chair the National Climate Task Force that will be comprised of twenty-one members from across federal agencies and departments. With the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, our youth—who were clamoring for urgent action before the pandemic drove them off the streets—will have the opportunity for training in conservation and climate resilience.
At last, a government-wide approach to addressing the climate crisis!
To achieve a sustainable clean energy economy and meet our commitment of net-zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050, our nation will need millions of construction, manufacturing, engineering, and skilled-trades workers to build new infrastructure.
President Biden noted: “Such jobs will bring opportunity to communities too often left behind—places that have suffered as a result of economic shifts and places that have suffered the most from persistent pollution, including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities.”
It is my hope that the escalating evidence of Mother Nature’s fury will silence the voice of climate change deniers within the Biden Administration.