Thursday, October 9, 2008

Major Jackson and Dexter Filkins coming up

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Long Road to Chaos

Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War (2008), and renowned for his coverage of the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, now turns his interest toward the incipient chaos in Pakistan. This is from the New York Times, Sunday, September 28.

“It was more than a decade ago that Pakistan’s leaders began nurturing the Taliban and their brethren to help advance the country’s regional interests. Now they are finding that their home-schooled militants have grown too strong to control. No longer content to just cross into Afghanistan to kill American soldiers, the militants have begun to challenge the government itself. “The Pakistanis are truly concerned about their whole country unraveling,” said a Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is sensitive.”

“That is a horrifying prospect, especially for Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government, its first since 1999. The country has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. The tribal areas, which harbor thousands of Taliban militants, are also believed to contain Al Qaeda’s senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.”

“It’s all the greater a paradox, then, that the Taliban militias now threatening the stability of Pakistan owe their survival — and much of their present strength — to a succession of Pakistani governments that continues to the present day.”

Read the full article at

Note: Journalist Dexter Filkins will visit the Writers Institute on Thursday, October 16, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. In the evening, at 8 PM, he will read from his work in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the uptown campus.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Paradise of Kale

For those of us reaping backyard harvests in October, here is a poem by Major Jackson, whose evocation of a beleaguered backyard Eden in North Philadelphia was selected for the Washington Post’s “Poet’s Choice” column in April 2006:

Urban Renewal


The backyard garden wall is mossy green
and flakes a craggy mound of chips. Nearby
my grandfather kneels between a row of beans
and stabs his shears into earth. I squint an eye,--
a comma grows at his feet. The stucco's
an atlas, meshed-wire continents with leaders
who augured hate, hence ruins, which further sow
discontent. We are weeding, marking borders,
a million taproots stacked in shock. Forty years
from a three-story, he has watched the neighborhood,--
postwar marble steps, a scrubbed frontier
of Pontiacs lining the curb, fade to a hood.
Pasture of wind-driven litter swirls among greasy
bags of takeouts. Panicles of nightblasts
cap the air, a corner lot of broken TVs empties
and spills from a suitcase of hurt. Life amassed,
meaningless as a trampled box of Cornflakes.
When a beggar cupped for change outside
a check-cashing place then snatched his wallet,
he cleaned a .22 revolver & launched this plot. Tidal
layers of cement harden men born gentle as the root
crops tended south, the city its own bitter shrine.
We crouch by watering cans. He pulls a paradise of kale
and shakes root-dirt that snaps like a shadow lost in time.
Tomato vines coil by a plot of herbs. Far from the maddening
caravan of fistfights, jacked-rides, drunkards,
my pen takes aim from the thumbnail of his yard.

Note: Poet Major Jackson will visit the Writers Institute on Wednesday, October 15, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in the Standish Room, 3rd Floor, Science Library, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. In the evening, at 7:30 PM [NOTE EARLY START TIME CHANGE] he will read from his work in the same location.