Thursday, December 7, 2017

Poetry of Transformation


There’s a place in New Jersey, hemmed in by highways and humongous landfills, where a paddler can disappear into winding waterways lined by tall reeds and be immersed in a garden of eden blessed with choruses of bird songs, skim around a swishing grove of cattails and abruptly stare up at the Empire State Building, looming in the Manhattan skyline.

This is the Hackensack Meadowlands, a place where Pamela Hughes grew up playing in the dumps and falling in love with wildlife in marshland. Returning as a creative writing professor, she discovered the poetry of transformation. 

“How does a meadow move you?” Hughes writes in Meadowland Take My Hand, her eco-poetry collection published by Three Mile Harbor Press. “I rustle and glide/ like a low swooping bird,/ seeking nothing but the welcome of distance,/ wild streaks and strands/ of phragmites and birch boughs,/ the unbowed salve of green.”

Spend some time in this place, walking on the duckboards or a wildlife trail near the Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst, and nature reclaims you.

“And you are revised/ like the sky after a thunderstorm—/ slim summer segment of newly rinsed air/ or the thread of a rainbow … When you turn to glow,/ you are revised/ on the edge of the suburban wilderness,“ Hughes observed in a recent reading sponsored by the Teaneck Creek Conservancy at the Puffin Cultural Center in Teaneck.

In an interview in Huffington Post, Hughes said “As a poet, I’ve found that the environment has been my best muse so far. Being grounded in place helped me create my poetry collection … I had no intention to write a book of poems about the meadowlands, but when I immersed myself in the actual place—the physical landscape of the Meadowlands—the book began to write itself.”

Lamenting the loss of so much of this natural wonder to suburban housing developments, shopping centers, industrial hubs, a massive sports complex and malodorous mountains of trash, Hughes notes in the preface to her poetry collection: “As a poet I ask, what palliative grace can be summoned with poetry? What medicine to heal? This narrative and lyric hike asks: how do we honor the land instead of turning it into another strip mall?”

Besides deploying poetry as conservation campaign banners, Hughes invites adventuresome folks to explore the infamously polluted, glorious remains of the Meadowlands.

An engaging place to start is Overpeck County Park, a reclaimed landfill transformed into a refreshing playground, rowing center and bird sanctuary just off the NJ Turnpike exit for Teaneck and Leonia. Bald eagles sometimes hang out there in the cottonwoods. Another memorable experience is to join a kayaking, canoeing or pontoon boat trek through the Meadowlands organized by the Hackensack Riverkeeper out of Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus.

“If I had a wish,” Hughes writes, “there would be mandatory play-in-nature programs for adults and teens where they would have to roll in it, lie in it, leap over it, run their palms over blades of grass, bark and stone. It’s hard, as kids know, not to appreciate and like the one you’ve played well with.”
 


Friday, November 24, 2017

Give the Gift of a Better Future

Earth from space (NASA photo)

The threat of severe world-wide climate change is not theoretical, but horrifically real, thousands of scientists warned in a recent letter to humanity. Averting global disaster, they assert, will take an historic culture change.

“[A] great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided,” the open letter published November 13 in Bioscience maintained, reiterating a stark warning from scientists issued twenty-five years ago. 

“Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” the updated evaluation signed by more than 15,000 scientists concluded.  

“With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing,” the scientists’ call to action stated. “It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.”

Civic campaigns can change the course of human events. Grassroots movements in the past century gained women the right to vote, extended civil rights to disenfranchised descendants of slavery, halted atmospheric tests of nuclear explosions, and convinced the governments of the US and USSR to negotiate an end to the Nuclear Age and its suicidal strategy of “Mutual Assured Destruction.”

A good start would be to create an action plan to guide us at home, at work, in schools, in religious and social groups and in government. Here are some suggestions, which hopefully spark additional practical ideas.

Climate Change Action List

1. Reduce eating beef.
About 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide comes from cattle, sheep and goat manure, meat production and shipping, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Meatless Mondays, fish on Fridays, more veggies, chicken, turkey.

2. Reduce vehicle impacts.
Nearly 20 percent of US emissions comes from cars and trucks, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports. Walk more, drive less, drive more efficiently, take a bus, take a train, carpool, ride a bike, get electric or hybrid car.

3. Reduce electricity impacts.
Nearly 30 percent of US emissions comes from electricity generation, the USEPA notes. Turn off lights that are not needed, turn off computers when not in use, choose energy efficient replacements of light bulbs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioning units, boost use of solar and wind power.

4. Reduce use of plastic bags, bottles and wrapping.
About 6 percent of world oil production is used to make plastic items, according to the World Economic Forum, with a projected increase of more than three times if current trends continue. Switch from plastic shopping bags to reusable bags, reduce use of plastic wrapping, reduce use of, recycle and replace plastic water bottles.

5. Recycle reusable materials.
Recycling and composting programs in Washington, Oregon and California reduce emissions equivalent to taking more than 6 million vehicles off the roads, a study by the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum found. Key areas are: carpets, cans, bottles, paper, lumber and food scraps.

6. Increase tree cover.
About 12 percent of US emissions in 2015 were offset by carbon accumulation in woodlands, the USEPA reports. Plant trees, stop clear cutting of forests, reduce forest fires.

7. Increase family planning.
Our “global population – projected to rise from around 6.8 billion people today to 9.2 billion by 2050 – will inevitably lead to a significant increase of greenhouse gas emissions,” the World Health Organization reports. This touchy topic needs to be sensibly addressed, the newly formed Alliance of World Scientists argues.

8. Help prevent nuclear war.
Nuclear winter “would produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history,” Dr. Alan Robock of Rutgers University wrote in the journal Nature. Sunlight dimmed by long-lasting layers of smoke from a limited exchange of nuclear explosions, he stated, would drop temperatures below the “‘Little Ice Age’ (1400-1850), during which famine killed millions.” Speaking at a symposium on The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction at the New York Academy of Medicine in 2015, Dr. Robock said the best solution to such a threat is to greatly reduce the number of nuclear weapons, while working to eliminate them altogether. 


--Jan Barry, author of A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns and The Great Challenge: How You Can Help Prevent Nuclear War. 


Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Threat of Nuclear Winter

Operation Desert Rock, Nevada, 1951-57

Threats to use nuclear weapons are back in the news again, with President Donald Trump trading increasing dire insults with North Korea's provocative leader, Kim Jong-un. 

Nuclear weapons have been a threat to humanity since atomic bombs were exploded in 1945. In the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, the US military in the 1950s trained soldiers to fight on “atomic battlefields” in exercises that used real nuclear explosions.

In 1962, shortly after I joined the Army, the Cuban Missile Crisis shook up people around the world.  To counter US nuclear missiles that were aimed at Soviet cities, the Soviet military snuck nuclear missiles into Cuba, 90 miles from Florida. President John F. Kennedy ordered a Navy blockade of Soviet ships heading to Cuba and demanded that the Soviets remove their missiles. The threat of nuclear war loomed in the news headlines. And I realized as a soldier at Ft. Benning, Georgia that armies with rifles couldn’t stop nuclear missiles.  

Fortunately, President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev negotiated a peaceful resolution. The Soviets agreed to remove their missiles in exchange for the US promising not to invade Cuba and to remove US nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey.

In the 1980s another crisis arose when President Ronald Reagan took a belligerent stand toward the Soviet Union, while the head of FEMA stated that Americans could survive a nuclear war. Scientists launched a campaign to educate world leaders and the public about the threat of “nuclear winter”—which could be caused by multiple nuclear explosions creating massive fires and clouds of smoke circling the Earth, blocking sunlight vital for growing food.

This threat to life on Earth triggered a grassroots peace movement that held huge protest marches, put the issue of negotiations for a nuclear “freeze” on the ballot in cities and states across the country, and mounted “citizen diplomacy” exchange visits of American and Soviet citizens. The size and international scope of this civic movement convinced President Reagan to negotiate with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, leading to significant reductions in nuclear arsenals and an end to the Cold War.

Now we have a new president threatening to use nuclear weapons in response to North Korea developing nuclear weapons. Such a war could spread and involve other nuclear-armed nations, which include China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, France and the British United Kingdom.

Even a “small” nuclear war, such as between India and Pakistan, The New York Times reported last year, “with each [side] using 50 Hiroshima-size bombs (far less than 1 percent of the current arsenal), if dropped on megacity targets in each country would produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history,” Dr. Alan Robock of Rutgers University wrote in 2011 in the journal Nature. Temperatures, he continued, “would be lower than during the ‘Little Ice Age’ (1400-1850), during which famine killed millions.”

Speaking at a symposium on The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction at the New York Academy of Medicine in 2015, Dr. Robock said the best solution to such a threat is to greatly reduce the number of nuclear weapons, while working to eliminate them altogether.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Warrior Writers NJ Book Party and Reading

“Lunchtime Poets, Newark, NJ” by Walt Nygard:
cover art for Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ

A book party and reading from a new anthology of poetry and prose on war and peace, Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ, is scheduled for Nov. 16 at 7 pm at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, 14 Maple Ave., Morristown, NJ.

The 80-page collection of writing by military veterans and family members explores the haunting turmoil of surviving battle zones, loss of friends and sometimes faith, and enduring anguish on the home front. It celebrates the stirring sparks of life energy in addressing such experiences through creative writing. Contributors include veterans of World War II, Vietnam, Gulf War I, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, including women combat veterans, and women who experienced hidden sides of military service as wives, daughters, mothers, girlfriends.

Edited by Jan Barry and Regina Mullen and published by Post Traumatic Press, Sound Off is a commemoration of Warrior Writers’ 10th anniversary. The group, headed by Director Lovella Calica, was formed in 2007 in Philadelphia, PA. Its workshops and public performances have welcomed and engaged veterans of all ages in cities and towns across the U.S. Warrior Writers NJ provides writing workshops at New Jersey community colleges, universities, art galleries, VA and military facilities and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown.  

Warrior Writers’ participation in the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in 2014 and 2016 introduced the program to wider audiences. Warrior Writers NJ participants have also given performances at the Lunchtime Poems Series in Military Park in Newark, New York City Poetry Festival on Governors Island, Columbia University, Cooper Union, Brennan Courthouse Gallery in Jersey City, Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, and numerous other locales.

“Warrior Writers saved my life,” says Sarah N. Mess, a Branchburg, NJ resident who served with a U.S. Army field hospital in the war in Somalia in 1993. “The closest I have come to coming home has been in this community,” Sarah said in The Fog of War: Combat Paper and Warrior Writers, a video produced by State of the Arts NJ. Combat Paper is a creative arts process developed by veterans that transforms military uniforms into handmade paper to display art on war and peace themes.

“A lot of the Combat Paper workshops include a writing element based on Warrior Writers’ free writing style. It really is an immediate way to get thoughts and feelings and expression out from your head,” David Keefe, founding director of Combat Paper NJ, said in The Fog of War video. Dave, a Marine vet who served in Iraq, is director of Frontline Arts, which manages the Printmaking Center of New Jersey in Branchburg and staffs a traveling art and writing workshop team that visits VA and military facilities including the Lyons VA Hospital in New Jersey, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  

Contributors to the anthology include Jan Barry, Kevin Basl, Camillo Mac Bica, Lovella Calica, Omar Columbus, Everett Cox, W. D. Ehrhart, David Keefe, Alison Koffler, Ben Levine, Nathan Lewis, Gerald McCarthy, Sarah N. Mess, Regina Mullen, Jim Murphy, Joe Nygard, Nancy Nygard, Walt Nygard, Jenny Pacanowski, Paula Rogovin, Robert Sliclen, Jon Turner, Frank Wagner, Jay Wenk, Dayl Wise, Eli Wright, James Yee, and Walter Zimmerman.

Sound Off co-editor Jan Barry is a writer and poet whose books include Life after War & Other Poems and (co-editor) Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans. A U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam, he’s the Warrior Writers NJ coordinator. Co-editor Regina Mullen is a writer, arts marketer, poet, and Warrior Writers workshop facilitator. She’s also conducted writing workshops at the Mental Health Association of Orange County, NY. Most recently, her work was featured on The Other Stories podcast. Her father served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and a partner served in Vietnam.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

VVAW 50th Anniversary


April 15, 1967 peace march in New York City

Half a century ago, I marched in a peace demonstration in New York City with a small group of Vietnam vets along with upwards of 400,000 protesters of the war the US was waging in Southeast Asia. The march from Central Park to the United Nations plaza was so big it jammed up streets in midtown Manhattan for much of the day. The vets group that emerged from that march is still around and commemorating its 50th anniversary on Saturday.

When:September 16, 2017 from 2:00pm - 5:30PM
Where:Connolly's Pub and Restaurant
121 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036
What:50th Anniversary Event of VVAW in New York
Details:
Join VVAW as we gather to celebrate our 50th Anniversary. No elaborate events, just gathering with VVAW members and friends for talking, eating, and drinking.

As noted in the invitation from event organizers: "Veterans For Peace Executive Director Michael McPhearson will attend, and will present a plaque to VVAW. All VFP, VVAW, IVAW, About Face, MFSO, etc. members and friends are invited to attend." As noted in NYU Press' description of the best, concise history of VVAW:


The anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States is perhaps best remembered for its young, counterculture student protesters. However, the Vietnam War was the first conflict in American history in which a substantial number of military personnel actively protested the war while it was in progress.In The Turning, Andrew Hunt reclaims the history of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), an organization that transformed the antiwar movement by placing Vietnam veterans in the forefront of the nationwide struggle to end the war. Misunderstood by both authorities and radicals alike, VVAW members were mostly young men who had served in Vietnam and returned profoundly disillusioned with the rationale for the war and with American conduct in Southeast Asia. 





Friday, June 30, 2017

Bloomberg and Green Activist Team Up on Climate Change


 Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet burst into the public arena just before Earth Day. A joint communique by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, the heavily promoted book presents a formidable counterweight to the Trump administration’s assault on climate change action and environmental protection regulations.

In a remarkable networking move, the billionaire businessman and the backpacker environmental activist present a comprehensive plan for a grassroots campaign on climate change that builds on actions already begun in cities and states across the US and around the world. Writing in alternating chapters, they make a case for local civic actions to set the pace on addressing threats to the environment.

“No matter what happens in Washington, no matter what regulations the Trump administration adopts or rescinds, no matter what laws Congress may pass, market forces, local (and in some cases state) governments, and consumer demand for cleaner air will, together, allow the United States to meet and exceed the pledges that the Obama administration made in Paris,” Bloomberg contends. “The reason is simple: cities, businesses, and citizens will continue reducing emission, because they have concluded … that doing so is in their own self-interest.”

Pope argues that “during the Progressive era at the start of the 20th century, it was cities and states that forged the new policy instruments that eventually became the New Deal, rather than waiting for Washington. Mike Bloomberg and I believe that political leadership in the United States, and elsewhere, will come from below, not from national elites, which remain in thrall to the fossil lobby and other entrenched interests.”

It’s an approach that surely appeals to Sierra Club campaigners. “As the director of the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign,” Jodie Van Horn wrote in a review on the Sierra Club website, “I am heartened that Bloomberg and Pope see the battle against global warming as one that can be effectively waged at the municipal level, irrespective of the current regressive political climate in Washington, D.C., and lack of leadership emanating from Inside the Beltway.

“Ready for 100 is asking mayors, pastors, principals, civic and community leaders, parents, and students in cities large and small to commit to solutions that will help us achieve 100% clean energy across the United States by 2050,” she continued, noting that 26 cities have already committed to the 100 percent goal, including San Diego, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City.

It’s an approach that also appeals beyond liberal enclaves such as New York and the West Coast. Matthew D'Ancona, a conservative political columnist in London, likes the networking of local government leaders on environmental issues described in this book. 

“Bloomberg has been UN special envoy for cities and climate change since 2014, and is the driving force behind the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a coalition of 7,000 cities in 112 countries,” D’Ancona noted in a recent book review in the London Evening Standard. “Because mayors are engaged in such a specific and detailed way with the needs of their cities — and are daily accountable to their voters — they are perfectly placed between individual citizens who often feel powerless and national governments that move at a snail’s pace in their quest for global collaboration.” 

Accordingly,” the British journalist continued, “there is much here for our own city authorities — and every newly-elected metro mayor — to learn from. It is a model text for those who argue that decentralisation works best and that most of the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century require localised solutions.”

In response to a question on WNYC Radio’s “Morning Edition” about the bitter political divide in the US on climate change, Pope pointed out that pragmatism is often more powerful than politics at the community level.

“It's a very partisan issue at the national level,” Pope said. “But if you get down to the local level and you look at which cities are choosing to embrace clean energy, it turns out the first big American city to say it was going to be a hundred percent renewable was San Diego, which has a Republican mayor. Another big city that has said it's going to go 100 percent renewable is Salt Lake City, the largest city in the reddest state in the country.

For more information:



Monday, May 29, 2017

For a Downed Airman


(US Air Force photo)

Spring Memory

For Ted Crumb
Nov. 24, 1946-April 14, 1999

My brother rode motorcycles
like a howling wind bending
trees to his pleasure

He dove from helicopters
like an osprey into the ocean
to rescue downed pilots

When his swift cycle crashed
into a farm tractor
no one could save him

Eighteen springs ago
veteran paramedic died in a ditch
Just miles from home

--Jan Barry