CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people, on the Left, ranging from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this writer, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

POETRY IN RETROSPECT: 2010 - 2001


This is a collection of Pietaro-penned material in retrospect. The first poem is from 2010, very soon after my wife and musical partner Laurie Towers and I arrived back in Brooklyn after living upstate in Beacon NY for five years. The collection extends back through the period immediately following September 11, 2001. Along the way find many politically-charged works, from Valerie Plame to Hurrican Katrina.............

Reaching Outward
Ssshhhhhh…..softly.
Above you stands the mountain, casting massive shadow
High above the city limits.
Like a giant swath of darkness
It cuts deep into the light of day.
How majestic is its reach, how consuming
Its breadth.

Ssshhhhhh….softly.
Drink it in, drink it in, the sound of outdoors, the scent
Of nature.
The din beneath calls out loudly, can you hear its clamor?
Can you feel its draw?
Reaching upward, back toward the cloud-splitter,
The height is dizzying.
And then the imagery escapes.

Ssshhhhh…Ssshhhh….
You stand apart from the vision, now;
Beyond the dream, the sky is small again.
The sky is small again and you,
You are microscopic in its wake.
Straining your neck to look above the rooftops,
through the pulsating walls about you,
The thick clouds are but fading into the grey
And the swarm of motion has eclipsed all.
---January 29, 2010, 12:17 AM, Brooklyn NY; written for Laurie’s country heart--reflecting back on the view of life from NY’s  Hudson Valley.


Ballad of the Big Wind
The big wind blew away New Orleans;
Took lives and homes and reality.
The Gulf never knew blues so blue,
It sure looks like murder to me.

The big wind could not be predicted;
No gauges, no charts could ever see;
No armies could fight, no doctors could save,
No statesmen could care, they let it be.

The big storm engulfed all the houses
And poured over poor people’s dreams.
The big wind drowned out all the voices,
Killed the animals and innocence, it seems.

It broke men and took down the women
Who’d known more of struggle than most.
For a while it silenced the music;
It roared as it took down the coast.

A warning to all weather stations:
The gauges and charts speak to us!
The big wind that blows through this nation—
The chill factor’s goddamned corrupt.
The big wind blew away New Orleans;
Took lives and homes and reality.
But nothing was done by the fortunate son—
The storm in this Right-wing regime.
October 28, 2006, Beacon NY. Written in a rush of inspiration after listening to reports on the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans---and the very human failings of the government’s national rescue efforts. As is well-recalled, George Bush appointed a completely inappropriate person to head up emergency response duties and an endless list of people lost their homes and their lives, let alone lifestyles in the wake of this horrendous storm. Feel free to read what you will into the ‘big wind’ symbolism; no problem. The melody and also the lyrical style were very influenced by the work of Woody Guthrie, evidenced by the recording of this piece on the disc ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’.

Un-American Gothic
This unrequited logic outcast from covert project
In times of hidden frolic-- Un-American Gothic.

The We who stand alone here sweat the sweat and pay the loan, dear.
There’s no time for upward striving, we’re too busy just surviving

In times of scorn and maiming, alabaster self-proclaiming;
Batten hatches, pull the bridge in; light the fuse, boil the fission.

Oh, they play Un-American Gothic with a smile and twist of fate.
And they bank un-American profit; with sleight of hand, manipulate.

Oh, they play Un-American Gothic; today’s smile is tomorrow’s hate.
While they bank un-American profit it’s the deal they stipulate.
-June 1, 2006, Beacon NY. Commentary on the machinations of George W Bush’s cowboy capitalism as well as his continued appropriation of our post-9/11 fear.

Contrasts
Lost in time, faceless twins;
Mirrored lives and nameless sin.
Do they know? Do they know?

Born of one, an age apart:
Rebel son, sister heart.
Do they know? Do they know?

Contrasts, Contrasts.

Another side, another look--
Conquer, divide, re-write the book.
From Red Scare one to Cold War times
Dissent is shunned, now thought’s a crime.

Here’s to life and twists of fate
From corporate reach to fascist weight;
Do we know? Do we know?
It’s been the same through all of time:
Manipulate, create the crime.
Contrasts…contrasts?

Lost in time, the pawns of war;
Silence them and close the door.
So we go, so we go.
Nothing’s changed but who and when;
Plant the fear and start again.
So we go, so we go.
-March 3, 2006, Beacon NY. Originally a song which was written as part of a music therapy group project in 1993, albeit with a non-political content and one reflective of one’s inner struggle, the lyric was adapted and the song ultimately recorded by the composer’s ensemble, the Flames of Discontent on their 2007 release, ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’

Who’s To Blame?
Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame for Valerie Plame?
Joe Wilson’s wife; the White House claimed
There was no leak! How could there be? We do not speak, oh, no--not we.

Now, Valerie Plame of the CIA
Was brought to light, by force, to pay
When Joe was loud and rightly so, said What is this war? and Why did we go?

So who’s to blame? Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame for Valerie Plame?
There’s no Deep Throat, the sources claimed; There was no word! It was not spread!
So what was over heard was from that figure-head??

Who’s to blame? Who? Who’s to blame?
Was it Cheney from the depths of his secret lair? Or Condie from the view of her awful stare?
Was it ‘Rummie’ and his toys in the big War Room or Kenny and the boys?…oh, they’re George’s corporate doom

Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame for exposing Valerie Plame?
We’ll find out!, the Dems ascertain, Perhaps we’ll stand tall and speak from our base.
Ohhhh, that’s one way they can finally save face.

It might be the Christian Right or Fox News that composed this secret government blues.
Was it in a sound-bite or misinformation?? Let’s get the rubber hose and start the interrogation.

Was it Mouthpiece Fleischer or perhaps McLellan? No this plot belongs to the real felons.
Then it had to be Rove, little Dubya’s tutor or
Could it have been a grown man who calls himself…’Scooter’??

Ohhhhhhhh, what a brood, it’s so hard to choose; this insidious bunch has control of the news!
When did it get away---how did we fall?
They’re taking the courts and winner takes all.

Who? Who? Who? Who? Who? Who’s to blame?
Who’s to blame for breaking our trust--and outing Agent Plame?
Joe Wilson’s wife. The White House claimed: There was no leak. So how could it be?
And yet---WE do not speak. Oh, no…not WE.
-November 4, 2005, Beacon NY. This was one of those pieces that comes out like a stream of consciousness and is almost born complete. The news reports of the leak about veteran CIA agent Valerie Plame—payback by the White House for her husband Joe Wilson’s vocal protests against the Iraq invasion—was amazing fodder for a topical piece. It was the afternoon of one of our Flames of Discontent performances and there was no time to think about composing a melody and harmony---we played it then and always as modern day Beat poetry, I dramatically recited over a searing bass line by Laurie. It was recorded this way too.

Your Assets on the Line
Fight’s in the air, the anger’s shared
As we march into the streets.
We’re speaking out in rebel shouts
No, we’ll not accept defeat.

Your call to war has made us sure
Democracy’s over due
You act alone, but from your throne
The whole world’s watching you.
-May 4, 2003, Brooklyn NY. Composed in a fit of anger about the Bush Administration. The style being overtly 1920s-30s Leftist, purely in the mold of the agitational fight song but with a directly confrontational and accusatory approach indicates some leftover bravura from May Day; several days prior, we were performing radical labor songs in Union Square Park!

September’s Divide
Each night I watch the evening news
It shapes my mind, feeds on my blues;
Reports to me with charm and grace
The need for pride and tears and faith.

The headline screams, the crawl reports
While talking heads speak double talk
And graphic flags’ red, white and blue
Reach from the side, obscure my view.

What guides me through times like these?
The City quakes, west to east.
No “us”, no “them” and we’ll survive
And so we close September’s divide.

Broadway still shines through darkened stage
And black smoke refines the fits of rage
While the protestors call out for peace
And march proudly down Fourteenth Street.

New York labor speaks union of race,
We can’t seek the blame on the foreigner’s face.
“America first!” the angry man cries,
But war only calls for workers to die.

The war to end wars led to the next
And the one again st Reds they called the best.
The fight for our rights continues still
So how do we march while refusing to kill.

Avenging the deaths of friends once here,
Amending the reign of corporate sneer.
Rebuild the skies! Our hearts decide
But what’s left to fix when the soul divides?

What guides me through times like these?
The City quakes, west to east.
No “us”, no “them” and we’ll survive
And so we close September’s divide.

What guides me through times like these?
The whole world quakes, west to east.
No “us”, no “them” and we’ll survive
And so we close September’s divide.
-September 10, 2001, Brooklyn NY. This piece was composed in the weeks immediately following the 9/11 attacks; prior to writing this, I was unable to release any emotion about that day through my music. When the attack on the World Trade Center occurred, I was working on the Psychiatry unit of a hospital located in the heart of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, not far from lower Manhattan. From the windows of the unit, I stood and watched the towers burn and implode and then had to find the right words to discuss it all with a ward full of anxious, understandably desperate people.

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