November 20th, 2009 10:15 EST
Nebraska Shows us What it Takes to Celebrate our Language
Listen to me on public radio
There must be a better way for a society to exist than to lurch from one upsetting headline to another. There is a better way, and I know where it is. It`s in Nebraska. (Well, where would you want it to be?)
Consider this Creighton University list of private presses operated by men and women who love moveable type, poetry and fine literature. Theirs is a labor of love. They are not paid to rant and to divide and infuriate. They take it upon themselves, often at considerable sacrifice, to uplift us, to ennoble our language. Not to use it, but to elevate it.
We live these days as if we`re waiting for the next dire pronouncement, another smarmy screed about how someone else is wrong, another depressing fact about the improvidence of our leaders, the greed of those whose wealth is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us. When did the last set of statistics encourage us?
I have reached the point where if the radio chooses to sing to me or to enrapture me in orchestral glories, I may (may) leave it on, but if it plunks me down in the land of yak, I switch it off before it even occurs to me to tune into something less disturbing. I have come to regard it as enemy territory, a wasteland full of vipers.
The airwaves have become an attractive nuisance. We are in danger of tripping on our prejudices and drowning in yak. There is no logos to define this assault of words. We pay millions of dollars to listen to fools and haters.
What is the evolutionary fate of a people who celebrate the descent of language into disturbance. Surely it`s not the manifest destiny of language to disturb. Why would we listen to rant and dissembling when our literature is full of harmony and ascent?
Back in the 1980s when newspapers were beginning to see the handwriting on the wall and were scrambling about for ways to survive, publishers started demanding that editors create focus groups. Publishers and their marketers complained to editors that there wasn`t enough good news. They wanted feel-good stories. At the same time they also wanted to reduce the size of newsrooms. And they definitely did not want to report the stories that were not in their interests to report, such as predatory lending.
Meanwhile, the air-wave kingpins thought they had the answer to declining revenues "will revenues ever be enough? "they thought that instead of spending a lot of money on reporting the news they`d just pay a bunch of smart asses to whip up paranoia and resentment, thereby creating a semiliterate class of agitators. Then they figured they`d pay a clique of more literate yakkers to slather the week`s events with platitudes, carefully ignoring anything that looked like a big picture. All of these people are adept at ignoring the elephant in the room.
But poets and the finest of our writers do not ignore the elephants in the room. Nor do the many private presses in all our states, red and blue, that publish them. The news of our society is not in the headlines or on the airwaves "that`s where we go to censor the news "no, the news is in what our painters paint, our poets speak, our sculptors sculpt, and our singers sing. And future generations, when they seek to learn about us, will learn from our artists, not our paid blabbermouths.
So, when you consider Creighton University`s list with wonder "and I think it will amaze you "remember that Nebraska is not the only state where such heroes work in obscurity; it is instead a window on what really matters compared to all that noise that pretends to matter.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.