Thursday, November 8, 2018

Armistice Day, 2018 Art Show

poster image by Maly Marstens

November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the ceasefire that ended the First World War. The Puffin Cultural Forum and Frontline Arts commemorate Armistice Day with an exhibition of art works created to inspire countering cultural forces that would allow history to repeat itself, yet again.

The exhibition opening is Saturday, November 10 at 6 pm at The Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. The event is free and open to the public. The art show runs through January 19.

Curated by Walt Nygard, Jan Barry and Ron Erickson, the exhibition includes paintings, prints, sculptures and mixed-media works by a variety of artists including Greta Anderson, Jan Barry, Donna Bassin, Terry Berkowitz, Marco Bras, Karen Brussat Butler, Rebecca Darge Christensen, Anne Dushanko Dobek, Michael Eckstein, Ron Erickson, Jim Fallon,  Cathleen Ficht, Karen Fiorito, Manda Gorsegner, Rachel Heberling, Tara Krause, Nathan Lewis, Talia Lugacy, Sigrid H. Mabel, Gardner McFall, Len Merlo, MaryAnn L. Miller, Liz Mitchell, Ruth Bauer Neustadter, Walt Nygard, Joanne Ross, Anthony Santella, Kenneth Schnall, Leokadia Stanik, Greg Stone, Onnie C. Strother, Nina Talbot, Vilja Virks-Lee, Frank Wagner, Eli Wright, and James Yee.

“‘The Wire’ and ‘One Hundred Years’ are companion pieces in that very little has changed in one hundred years except for the backdrop. In 1918 there was a wall of fire wrought by artillery and today there is green grass and blue skies though the barb wire remains,” Ron Erickson, a painter and printmaker from Bogota, NJ, notes in an artist’s statement.

“These days we have no day marking the end of war, no day to celebrate, to proclaim: It’s Over!” says MaryAnn L. Miller, a book artist and poetry coordinator for the NJ Book Arts Symposium. “Battle continues to destroy, to displace populations that will never find a way back to their homes. ‘On Foot/By Hand’ is about those populations: the refugees, the migrants, the asylum seekers, the bombed out.”

“Art can speak for me,” says Rebecca Darge Christensen, an artist from Des Moines, Iowa, who contributed a triptych titled “War. Peace. Armistice.” “I can communicate with everyone through the channel of art. If I can bring people together to the table, with art and food, every prejudice that overrides beauty and goodness is broken. Art can, and should be, accessible to everyone. Through accessibility comes understanding; the tie that binds us to peace and contentment.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Earth Songs II

Just published a new collection of poetry titled Earth Songs II. It’s a sequel to Earth Songs: New & Selected Poems, published in 2003. The new collection commemorates family members and friends who are no longer with us and a now fading time when peacefully protesting senseless wars and the government’s ill treatment of injured soldiers seemed to have a hope of transforming America into a more caring culture.

Amid these graveyard thoughts, written during sleepless nights and Warrior Writers workshops, sometime zestful poems emerged like spring flowers, renewed displays of Nature’s healing powers. These poems were nourished by the kindness of friends, relatives, lovers, strangers, and by treks in astounding outdoors places, where battered spirits can be renewed.

Come See

A flare of flowers, a sunset aflame—
I capture rapture with my camera,
In a Zen penning of a poem—
And such moments, forget what’s lost

Commemorating Peace

When I was growing up,
The whole village stopped
For a moment of silence
At the 11th hour of the 11th day
Of the 11th month—
Armistice Day.
It was treated seriously,
Like Arbor Day,
When we planted trees—
Ancient holy days now,
When people commemorated peace
And spring planting.

Early Warning

Winter dropped from the October sky
Two days before Halloween—
Tree branches smothered in snow
On summer leaves snapping deep into the night
Made darker by downed power lines

Global warming! skeptics scoffed—
As this part of suburban civilization
Staggered for days without electricity,
Towns closed schools, postponed Halloween
Until tangled wires and lives are restored

The paperback book, listed at $10, is available at lulu (with a 10 percent discount):

Friday, October 26, 2018

Artists Take on Climate Change

"Keep It in the Ground," art by Ruth Bauer Neustadter

Ruth Bauer Neustadter’s latest art show invites viewers to participate in a community discussion about what can be done regarding global environmental crises. In many cases, naming and framing an issue to the public is the first step in effectively addressing the problem. In this case, art viewers are asked to help in the framing.

“Turn the Tide: Paintings which Encourage a Conversation About the Future of Mother Earth” opened last night at the Hackensack (NJ) Performing Arts Center with a spirited crowd of about 50 painters, dancers, poets and environmental activists joining an impromptu performance of reflections on her art’s themes. 

“This is the most important issue—the state of Mother Earth,” Neustadter said of the event, encouraging audience members to share their thoughts on viewing the mixed-media pieces in this show. The works on display were made from recycled metal, plastic, wood and paper items in brightly painted arrangements. Titles convey the themes of somewhat abstract works: “Endangered Species,”  “Red Tide,”  “Pipelines, Trains, Oil.”

Addressing the theme of a black and white piece titled “Empty Honeycombs,” four dancers stood in a line near the middle of the room, humming as they slowly, slowly, slowly bent forward and collapsed on the floor. One by one, other audience members offered comments on the long-reported decline of honey bees.

Another dancer celebrated a colorful art piece titled “Mother Earth” with graceful, sweeping movements. “Life, love, mother—Mother Earth,” she said.

I contributed a poem jotted down while contemplating a piece titled “Keep It in the Ground.”

The detritus of dead sea creatures
and decayed vegetation
is sucked out of the ground
and burned to choking smoke
that poisons living creatures
and whacks the balance of Nature
back toward a deadly, prehistoric
time before the creation
of humankind

A man read a friend’s poem, contemplating “Endangered Species”:
“When will it end? Maybe when we become endangered—and it may be closer than we think.”

Turning to what can be done, one of the dancers said she has shifted her priorities to addressing environmental justice issues. Two other audience members talked about raising monarch butterflies on milkweed plants in their back yard and inside their home. A member of the Hackensack Environmental Commission talked about a project to rebuild an old greenhouse in a city park and put it back into use.

A woman announced that a citywide litter cleanup campaign called “Slam Dunk the Junk” is scheduled for this weekend, with civic group members gathering at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center, 102 State St., at 9 am on Sunday, postponed due to an expected rain storm on Saturday.

Another woman spoke out about destruction of rainforests due to clearcutting for beef growing operations, encouraging the crowd to support a campaign asking people to cut the amount of beef they eat. “What if everybody ate half as much—that would make a big difference,” she said.

Neustadter’s son Josh commented that, as an environmental researcher, he’s thought a lot about how to replace plastic—which permeates modern society—with something biodegradable. While that vexing problem is being addressed, he said, people “need to do more with less,” to reduce the amount of castoff junk that doesn’t biodegrade.

Summing up the evening, a woman said she was excited by “the burst of energy that comes from these paintings” and spread through the audience.  


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Winnie the Pooh and War

A.A. Milne in the World War

The seemingly wistful author of Winnie the Pooh and other children’s stories was a morose war veteran trying to figure out how to amuse a lively young son. This bitter-sweet story is the heart of the 2017 film “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” which appeared recently on cable television. Scenes of cozy home front life suddenly explode into battlefield mayhem and back to awkward social scenes, as Milne and fellow trench warfare veterans try to maintain British composure. Astute film reviewers alerted audiences that this is not a warm and fuzzy story.

“A. A. Milne fought in the epic Battle of the Somme, in 1916, when a million men were killed or injured. It was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Milne, already a playwright and a novelist, was among those wounded,” The New Yorker’s Robin Wright noted. “He went home shell-shocked, with all the haunting symptoms of what is today diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D.”

Hollywood Reporter reviewer Sheri Linden observed: “When a popped champagne cork or opening-night spotlight triggers flashbacks, he does his best to maintain a stiff upper lip.” But Milne’s flashback flinches at home and on walks in the woods make his preschool-age son, Christopher Robin, who prefers the nickname Billy, “as watchful and wary as he is hungry for paternal affection … Billy is an old soul with a knack for empathy, skillfully talking his war-damaged father out of his occasional panic attacks.” 

Father-son adventures of creating playful tales involving a teddy bear and other stuffed animals romping with a boy named Christopher Robin evolved, through Milne’s playwriting skills, into a wildly popular set of books with lively illustrations by E.H. Shepard, an artist who served as an artillery officer in the war. Billy later resented his father for turning private moments of childhood glee into glaring fame that triggered brutal harassment in boarding school. 

As the children’s books showered the reclusive author with fame and fortune, Milne’s wife savaged his plan to write a blockbuster book denouncing war. “What’d we fight that war for? Nothing’s changed,” he shouts. “I’ve had enough of making people laugh. I want to make them see!” His wife retorts: “You know what writing a book against war is like? It’s like writing a book against Wednesdays.”

Milne’s antiwar book, Peace with Honour, was brushed aside by the massive acclaim for the children’s stories and Europe’s militaristic marches toward another round of war. His son bitterly rejected royalties from the Pooh books and insisted on joining the army in the Second World War. In the end, in a throat-catching scene, Milne warily greets a battered young veteran who wearily trudges back home.

“The House at Pooh Corner stands in a glade between two dark shadows – the aftermath of one war that had just finished and the dread of one coming,” Frank Cottrell Boyce, the film’s screenwriter, wrote in The Guardian. “No one who fought in the first world war knew it was the first world war. On the contrary, they had been told that they were fighting the war that would end all wars. It must have been with the most bitter irony and failure, then, that Milne’s generation watched their children march away to a war that they had been told would never happen.” 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Frontline Arts Exhibit of Veterans' Images

Veteran artists Ron Erickson and Sarah Mess
at Barron Arts Center (photo/Jan Barry)

An exhibition of artwork by military veterans is on view until June 17 at the Barron Arts Center, 582 Rahway Avenue in Woodbridge, NJ. Gallery hours are Monday thru Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m.-4 p.m.

Sponsored by Frontline Arts (formerly known as Combat Paper NJ), which operates the Printmaking Center of New Jersey in Branchburg, these works were created in programs that offer artistic tools and training for novices and practicing artists, providing an opportunity to use art to explore personal experiences and artistic visions.

The Barron Arts Center is in a Romanesque re-purposed library building donated to the town of Woodbridge by the Barron family, including Dr. John Conner Barron, a surgeon with the 69th New York Volunteers during the Civil War.

The show highlights work by veterans and active duty soldiers painted or printed on handmade paper from recycled military uniforms. Much of this art was done in workshops in New Jersey and the Washington, DC area that Frontline Arts provided for veterans and soldiers in various locales including military hospital recovery programs.

Much of the work on display is raw-edged, unpolished, drawn from war experiences, nightmares and worries about living in a world of seemingly endless wars. Some of it is drawn from seeking peaceful times communing with Nature. Some of it is drawn from witnessing the brute impact of war’s assault on Nature.

Included in the show is a rough-hewn piece I did titled “Atom Man,” which incorporates a silkscreened image of Da Vinci’s perfectly proportioned man set in a circle with his arms and legs in various poses. I transformed this image into a facsimile of a handmade military patch that reads “Nuclear War Exercise Survivor.”

When I joined the Army in May 1962, I heard a hushed story of soldiers sent to Nevada to participate in nuclear explosion field exercises. Years later, as a news reporter, I wrote about how many of the “peacetime” atomic explosion participants died of cancer. Other unsettling memories include being in the Army during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union was exceedingly real.

Art by other vets explores war images from the First World War to Vietnam and more recent warfare in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Middle East. Other themes are Veterans Affairs health care treatment and horror stories. Some of the art—particularly, startling pieces by Vietnam vets Jim Fallon and Frank Wagner—won VA art contest awards. Some of the bitterest work, listed as done by “Anonymous,” is by active duty soldiers in military health care treatment programs.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ode to My Mother Who Just Missed the Flowers of Mothers Day

Virginia Graham Crumb, 1945 

For Mom

Virginia Graham Crumb

A lot of life—
93-plus years—
A great lot of life—
Born on an August day in 1924
In Ithaca, lakeside city you loved
And returned to
For high school (Class of ’42)
And delivery of 4 kids
Doctor appointments
Dentist appointments
Christmas shopping
Departure on trains
To places where Jack
Was stationed in the Navy—
Memphis, Tennessee
Chincoteague, Virginia
Charlestown, Rhode Island—
Raising a rambunctious baby
In cramped quarters—
I was that wild thing
Running amok
Amid sailors and teen brides—
And then raising two kids
In a rented house
On an isolated farm road—
And then three kids
In the new house
That Jack built
In Jacksonville—
And then four kids
In a bigger house
In Interlaken—
Where you planted roots
For sixty-five years—
Playing piano at the church,
Singing with the Hot Flashes,
Lunching with friends
And crossing kids at school,
Bookkeeping for Jack’s businesses
And for the church—
Hosting an open house
For constant streams of neighbors,
Friends, travel-weary relatives
And strangers—
Who knew the last stop
Would be a hospital in Rome, NY
With a broken hip,
Pneumonia and baffled confusion,
Where you told a nurse
You were home in Interlaken

--Jan Barry

Monday, February 5, 2018

Singing and Sailing to Save a River

When folk singer Pete Seeger and some friends launched the Clearwater sloop nearly 50 years ago, the Hudson River was a fish-killing open sewer from industries and municipalities along most of its majestic sweep from the Adirondack Mountains past Catskills views immortalized by the Hudson River school of painters. Raw sewage sloshed with the tides lapping against former swimming beaches below the towering Palisades cliffs in New Jersey, decimating a declining shad fishing industry. It sloshed and bobbed amid the ocean liner piers framed by Manhattan’s postcard scenic skyscrapers. The massive flow of pollution continued into New York Bay, sloshing in wind-tossed waves rocking Staten Island ferries, churning past the Statue of Liberty and out to sea, slimming the striped bass fishing areas off Coney Island’s amusement park and ocean-view beaches.

But then, the sight of a full-sail sloop tacking up and down the tainted river with a crew of excited kids and adults picked up at docks from Albany to Jersey City sparked outbursts of activism that produced cleanups of major sources of pollution.

The inspiration for this hearty environmental activism was a beanpole-thin, blue-jeaned guy who tramped around with a banjo singing old-fashioned folk songs. For decades, Pete Seeger energized hand-clapping, standing-room-only audiences of all ages in jam-packed high school auditoriums from White Plains to Montclair, in throngs at the annual Clearwater Festival/Great Hudson River Revival in Croton Point Park, and in a star-studded crowd at a 90th birthday bash cum Clearwater fundraiser in Madison Square Garden. Seeger’s career as the pied piper of environmental activism was capped by leading a television-watching nation in singing “This Land Is Your Land” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. during the first inauguration celebration for President Obama.

“I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been before,” Seeger said at an Earth Day fair at Columbia University’s Teachers College in April 2009, where he was the keynote speaker. His optimism was fueled by the computer-generated “information revolution,” he said, which has sped up the process of exchanging good ideas. “I now speak with people I never used to speak with—some on the left, some on the right. I think, I believe, we will see more miraculous things happen,” Seeger said. And then he launched into his trademark patter of story-telling songs with an activism hook. Among these chestnuts was Seeger’s infectious channeling of Martin Luther King Jr. and the hymn-based anthems of the civil rights movement. The refrain of a favorite tune goes:
Don’t say it can’t be done
The battle’s just begun

Another of Seeger’s infectious songs was inspired by a zero waste campaign in Berkeley, California, which led to this memorable lyric:
If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired
Rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold
Recycled or composted
Then it should be restricted, redesigned
Or removed from production

Cheerfully singing even as his health declined, Pete Seeger died at 94 in January 2014. A World War II army veteran, he was an ardent peace activist as well as environmentalist. In his view, the two issues were connected. When the Clearwater campaign began, a major polluter was the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which flushed raw sewage into the Hudson River at its picturesque, historic site in the Hudson Highlands. In his war protest songs, Seeger prodded the Pentagon to clean up its contamination acts—bombing, shelling, napalming and use of Agent Orange and other chemical warfare—in Vietnam. Among other accomplishments, the innovative Clearwater campaign provided potent, popular incentive for Congress and President Richard Nixon to pass the 1972 Clean Water Act, which forced West Point and Hudson River cities, including New York City, to build upgraded sewage treatment facilities.

Singing and sailing up and down the Hudson, Pete Seeger encouraged people to enjoy working to change things for the better. He invited diverse people—rural people, city people, young people, older folks—to join him in an exciting project: Build and launch a replica of a 19th-century river sloop. Take volunteer crews and groups of school kids and community leaders out on the river and show them the pollution and where it’s coming from. Raise funds to hire scientific experts to testify at public hearings. Mobilize crowds of well-informed citizens to attend and speak at public meetings. Organize festivals where musicians, activists and audiences energize each other.

At Clearwater Festivals, concertgoers happily tramp through mud and rain to hear a Woodstock-style weekend of musical acts—including Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Taj Mahal,  the Hudson River Ramblers—and to check out the wares at scores of tents set up by activist organizations, handicraft makers and solar energy merchants. At a Clearwater Festival a few years ago, a group of New York City high school students proudly showed their newly learned skills in boat building and offered tours on the river in hand-made wood reproductions of classic sailboat tenders. Nearby, a spritely, eighty-ish Pete Seeger slipped into a rain-drenched tent with a banjo and joined in a round of sea shanties with a motley crew of bearded old salts, one of whom was wearing a battered Vietnam Veterans Against the War cap. With a tip of his hat to the activist vet, Pete Seeger was off to his next networking gathering, joining a stage full of folk song luminaries and belting out some more of his favorite tunes.

Behind the scenes, the famous folk singer also oversaw a continuous array of outreach expansions of evermore extensive Clearwater campaigns. These included, in recent years, its Next Generation Legacy Project and the Clearwater Center for Environmental Leadership, a youth education camping program in Beacon, NY, the riverside town where Pete Seeger lived with his wife, Toshi, his partner in organizing and in life since their marriage in 1943. Toshi Seeger died at 91 in 2013. Under their leadership, the Clearwater festivals, sloop sail rides and other outreach activities challenged people in the Hudson Valley to find solutions to seemingly intractable pollution.

The group’s stance in opposing a license renewal for the Indian Point nuclear power plant--its cooling towers and radiation chambers sucking in millions of gallons of Hudson River water and fish looming just upriver from the music festival site—sparked an investigative project by environmental students at Ramapo College of New Jersey, for instance. The student report concluded that an energetic energy conservation program combined with increased wind and solar power could replace the aging nuclear power plant and negate its potential dangers of radioactive contamination of the river and the region. Riding an increasingly popular environmental wave, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo successfully pressed last year for the closing of Indian Point’s two reactors by 2021. “The plant has grappled with 40 safety and operational events and unit shutdowns in the past five years,” The New York Times dryly noted.

Despite all the activism stirred up by Clearwater campaigns, there’s still a New York State advisory warning about eating fish from the Hudson River. But a major source of contamination was greatly reduced when General Electric dredged tons of PCBs from a heavily polluted stretch of the river north of Albany, a reluctant clean up done due to a decades-long battle by environmentalists. Manna Jo Greene, Clearwater’s environmental director during much of that battle, noted the campaign to clean up hazardous PCB pollution was “a classic grassroots effort, achieved in large part due to the tireless and scientifically-based work of past and present Clearwater staff members and volunteers, our collaborative partners in the Friends of the Clean Hudson Coalition, and the hundreds of thousands of people who wrote letters, signed petitions and cared enough to take action.”

Pete Seeger’s obituary in The New York Times channeled the spirit of this down to earth folk singer: “Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. ‘The key to the future of the world,’ he said in 1994, ‘is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.’ ”

This essay originally appeared in Narrative Northeast (

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Community Green Organizing

One town’s action plan addressing climate change and other environmental issues began nearly a decade ago in a community event at the high school on a wintry Saturday morning. The “Bedford Environmental Summit” was called by the town’s garden club and its energy advisory panel. One thousand people showed up.

The latest step in moving the town environmental action plan along is the Bedford 2020 Climate Action Summit scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, NY. Even for people who can't attend this event, the innovative eco-group has provided lots of useful information on its Facebook page and website. 

The civic group’s mission “is to lead, organize and promote a community wide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 and to create a sustainable community that conserves its natural resources,” the local environmental organization states on its website, which features a cornucopia of community activities information and organizing tips.

The Bedford 2020 Coalition has plugged into and in some cases energized a network of like minded organizations in Westchester County and elsewhere in the Hudson Valley region. Notable residents of the New York City exurban commuter town have included Donald Trump and a movie marque-ful of famous actors and actresses. Organizers of the environmental action group, however, are “over 90 community volunteers, many of whom are professionals and experts with deep experience and credentials in our action areas.”

One of the most useful items on the Bedford 2020 website is a “Summit in a Box,” which provides an online manual for creating a community environmental action plan.

“Global warming and environmental issues are the central challenge of our times. The goal of the Bedford Environmental Summit (BES) was to find a way to educate our community about the most pressing environmental issues of the day, to create a ‘community of advocates’ who would take actions to solve these problems on a local level,” the executive summary for the manual states. “We believe that the BES is a worthy model for any community or organization whose goal is to encourage grass roots, local actions to mitigate the challenges presented by greenhouse gas emissions and diminishing natural resources.”

The first step in Bedford was holding the community event at the high school in January 2009, which drew 1000 people in a town of 17,000 residents. More than 240 volunteers, including 88 students, organized the event, which offered 85 speakers presenting key information on 28 topics. In the hallways, 78 Expo tables with information on environmental issues and organizations were set up and a locavore breakfast and lunch were provided, the organizing manual noted.

The community summit led to creation of the nonprofit Bedford 2020 Coalition, “whose mandate is to implement over 70 projects recommended in BEAP’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020; the creation of a ‘sustainable school district’ and many individual and collaborative projects emanating from the networking that occurred at the Summit,” the manual summary continued.

“The key elements to the success of the BES were an effective public/private partnership in co-sponsoring the event; a comprehensive and appealing program of lectures, workshops and Expo exhibits that provided multiple points of entry for individuals in the community to get engaged; extensive community involvement in the form of local organizations who were enlisted as ‘partners’ to assist in the planning and implementation of the Summit; and the focus by Summit organizers on ‘what happens next’ to motivate participants to think beyond the day of the Summit.”

What happened next were volunteer-organized programs to involve residents in energy conservation and installing solar panels on homes and businesses, composting food waste, reducing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on lawns, boosting recycling of plastic, metal, glass and paper products, switching to a hybrid or electric car, and participating in Meatless Mondays to help reduce the amount of fossil fuel that goes into feeding and transporting beef cattle for hamburgers, chili con carne and steaks. Restaurants throughout town signed on as partners.

Local actions over the next several years helped create a county-wide network that by 2017 enlisted Westchester County and 20 town governments in Sustainable Westchester, “a consortium of local governments that facilitates green initiatives like Solarize Westchester, Community Choice Aggregation and the Municipal Solar Buyers Group.” A New York state program enables municipalities to choose getting 100 per cent of their electricity from solar, wind and hydro and “save money by negotiating bulk pricing for their supply.” The Town of Bedford is one of the municipalities participating in the state program.

“Bedford 2020 harnesses the power of community and drives action. This year, we have inspired thousands of people to reduce waste, increase efficiency, take on big green solutions and address climate change,” the group’s leaders stated in an October 2017 progress report. “Together we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting natural resources in Bedford and beyond.”

In an addendum to the progress report, the elected town supervisor, Chris Burdick, states: “We are proud that our Town has pledged a commitment to the Paris Climate Accord goals, with Bedford 2020 leading the way.”

For more information: