Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “poetry”

A Poetess Rises

I am not someone who understands poetry. It either resonates or not, that simple. We have some wonderful poets pass through the Berkeley Writer’s Group and I often feel guilty at my inadequate feedback.

But every once in a while, a poem really captures my imagination. This happened with the very talented Laura Schulkind, who read a poem called The Ancient Stories. 


Laura will release her first collection, Lost In Tall Grass, (including The Ancient Stories) in March. Her publisher, Finishing Line Press will gauge the print run according to pre-orders in the next two weeks. 

If you are moved by the poem, motivated to helping promote poets, enjoy supporting Bay Area artists, or have friends who would appreciate a thoughtful gift, please join me and pre-order a copy of Lost In Tall Grass before January 20.


I want to hear the ancient stories.

No, not Homer.

He was a pretty modern guy—

jealousy, pride, conquest, lineage,



I mean the stories howled around fires

when the handprints were fresh on the cave walls,

and humans shared the earth with woolly mammoths

and barely knew the connection between sex and life.


The stories humans told

at that split second in time

when we had the words

to tell our animal stories.


Before words erased our howls.

Before the word hate, or love.

Before the word loss.

Before the word blame.

Before the past subjunctive, or hypothetically speaking,

as it were.


When the whole of our vocabulary

the whole of our world was

hungry, hunt, eat, cold, warmth, fire, sleep, fuck, play, danger, run,

protect the young, oh yes from the very beginning protect the young.

Those stories.


Stories that I could hear above the complicated noise of you.

Deciphered from the ancient scrolls of my DNA.

Laura Schulkind

Pre-order Lost In Tall Grass here


Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Devorah Major – Defining an Activist

A post from Devorah Major, over at Red Room, caught my eye. I have written extensively about the place of literature and fiction for addressing social injustices. Ms. Major makes a great point by adding poetry to the list. She also challenges how we define an ‘activist’ and comes up with a far more inclusive definition than I had ever considered.

My ignorance with regard to poetry is pitiful. Ms. Major was the Poet Laureate of San Francisco between 2002-2006.  She is the author of Brown Glass Windows, which is the story of a multi-generational African-American family, living in San Francisco’s vibrant Fillmore District, and shares both the many layers of the family and of the city.

I don’t usually cut and paste someone’s article or post into my blog. I tend to summarize and add a quote or two. But I just cannot see how to do that here. Below is Ms. Majors post in full. There is nothing that I felt I could leave out.

“I have been chewing on what it means to be an activist about the many ways we can and do act in our lives about when and how those ways are political as well as purposeful if there is a difference between those two things or if, as is more likely,  one’s purposeful acts are defined by ones conscious or unconscious politic of life and politic of community.

Certainly one sows seeds and ties up young sprouts and further nourishes small saplings through teaching and though it may seems as only an evolutionary act there is a point when the act of helping young people to see that they can think and should reason and giving them tools to do so while helping them to not only look at but see their world, themselves in these times of “dumbing down” and blurring and testing but not evaluating, training but not educating, in these times as much if not more than, ever teaching can be a revolutionary act.

Letter writing, marching, witnessing, giving money to a cause are all kinds of activism- but front lines taking over buildings for the homeless, striking and shutting down industries, seem to me to be a deeper kind of activism.  But then again, when I look at Egypt I see that for them just showing up is a far more revolutionary act than it is for me. Poetry is very much a revolutionary act. http://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/egypts-revolutio…
There, as in much of the world, writing a poem, making a speech, releasing a blog entry can lead to beatings, prison, death.

I know some real revolutionaries.  People who don’t just bandy about the word but live their lives forwarding people’s struggle in word and deed.  Kiilu Nyasha kiilunyasha.blogspot.com/ was struck by a degenerative disease which has left her in a wheel chair for over two decades.  Despite the extreme weakness in her limbs she continues to teach, write, produce radio shows, connect people, make sure that struggles for people’s liberation are moved forward.

Yet what of those who spend most of their time holding family together, caring for elders, seeing that children are fed, guiding teens- is this not also a kind of activism?  In a country where we are constantly told to go for self, where radio and television ads actually applaud and celebrate selfishness is there a kind of activism that exists in just doing for others, caring for others, tending to the needs of others?

What of those elders who in the 70’s would not dream of becoming a member of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense but would, and sometimes did, hide a member in their home, protect a member, stand guard.  Were they not activists, maybe even revolutionaries?

In these times I think we all, and when I say we I am saying me and thee, need to become more active in the greater world.  But I also think that we need to be broad in what that definition of activism is.  Yet as a writer, as a poet who is a member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade, I am sure that writing the poem, reading the poem, however clear the political thrust, however skillful the craft, however profound the vision is simply not enough.”


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

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