Friday, July 19, 2013

Poet James Hazard

“I can have all that Beauty
I actually thought against all the
Evidence Whiting had to offer.
The thought, I thought, was
In itself all the evidence I needed,” James Hazard

In the June 2013 issue of Indiana Magazine of History a review of “And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana,” edited by Jenny Kander and C.E. Greer, contains a poem about finding beauty in the Region oil town of Whiting by native son James Hazard, who taught for 39 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and died last year at age 76. An article by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporters Don Walker and Tom Tolan mentions the poem “Whiskey in Whiting, Indiana,” which, in their words, tells of watching a group of men - probably his bricklayer grandfather and friends - drinking shots in a bar and discussing prizefighters they'd known [including Gary’s ‘Man of Steel’ Tony Zale], and the boy wanting to be a fighter himself, only to have them discourage him: ‘Jesus, not you, Jimmie.’  The poem concludes with the boy standing in front of a mirror, pretending to be a fighter, knocking down shots of Pepsi as the men did and seeing himself ‘defying them by loving what they loved,/ fighting my way into their dream/ of themselves and out of their dream for me.’”

The Foot of the Lake Poetry Collective published this short bio of Hazard shortly before he died, along with two of his poems: Jim Hazard was raised in Whiting, Indiana, for which he is grateful to any god anyone can dream up. In Lake County, Indiana, he worked in #3 Open Hearth of Inland Steel Company as a common laborer, also was a hod carrier, a mailman in a research laboratory, a runner for a bookie, and a trumpet player.  He graduated from Northwestern University and then University of Connecticut. He is a retired school teacher and currently plays second cornet with the Milwaukee Golden Eagle Concert Band.”  “They Called Her Birdie,” which first appeared in Wisconsin Verse, is about fourth grade teacher Miss Banks, who often went bird watching in the marsh behind her bungalow before school and would breathlessly describe what she’d seen to her young cherges.  Here’s how it concludes: Oh Birdie — hair in a bun, flowered
dress, school marm glasses –
it was all your disguise.  Oh Birdie,
you were our wild woman of
thicket, marsh, and desert, our
see-er come home covered
with feathers and dangerous dusts,
bringing home word
of the new seasons and what
they might mean for the children
in her willow tree.”
 “Parents in Whiting, Indiana,” from Hazard’s 1985 volume “New Year’s Eve in Whiting, Indiana,” begins: “Scariest of all was you were their kid. They locked the door at night and you were inside with them.”  Hazard recalls the night they came in slugging one another: “He towered, drunk and breathing through his nose, told me I’d have to be the man of the house now and gave me money.  I was shaking in my pj’s and my mother blamed him, which seemed about half right to this brand new man of the house.  Partly I realized how dumb they were – mostly I wanted them (still do) for my Mama and Daddy.”  Here’s how it ends: “Most Whiting parents did not speak English, which caused their children to be thought of as Hunkies.  My sister Beth and I did not speak English at Walgreen’s.  We spoke something we’d made up and put an arm up our jacket sleeves, limped like maimed orphans through Woolworth’s.  We hatched fantasies us dispossessed and dismembered in goddam Whiting where we’d been given false names and left on a doorstep with grownups who locked the door and loved us and made our lives so dangerous.”
Self-proclaimed patriots are worked up over the Rolling Stone “Bomber” cover.  They claim Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev looks too cute, kind of like the Doors’ Jim Morrison.   Several drug store chains refuse to carry the issue.  The point of the story, if critics bothered to read it, is to analyze how a popular, promising student became a religious zealot and monstrous terrorist.  In 1970 RS put Charlie Manson on the cover; 30 years before that Joseph Stalin was Time magazine’s Person of the Year; neither had blow-dried locks or an innocent-looking face.

Anne Balay’s Gender Studies assignment included “Harlotry” columns from a sex worker who goes by the name Cathryn Berarovich.  One dealt with attending an “Unhooked” class after being busted.  It was similar to DUI School in dramatizing horrifying future scenarios if one didn’t reform.  Another, entitled “Sex Work Helped Me Realize I’m a Sadist,” described getting pleasure from burning a John’s body with cigarettes, giving foot jobs, and servicing men with a dildo as part of her every day routine.  Cathryn calls herself a Whore as if it’s a badge of pride.  In my opinion, she seemed quite troubled. 

The class discussed “The Sessions.’  Polio victim Mark, a 38 year-old virgin who lives mostly in an iron lung, hires sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt).  Cheryl seems to have a healthy attitude toward sex but hides what she does from her teenage son and a Mikvah lady (Rhea Perlman from “Cheers”) whom she meets after inexplicably obeying her deadbeat house-husband by converting to Orthodox Judaism (which requires women to undergo a ritual bath after each menstrual period, witnessed by an attendant).  Does Cheryl believe that mikvahs are necessary to cleanse her from the sex acts she performs as part of her profession?  William Macy hams it up as a cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking, long-haired priest who encourages Mark get it on with Cheryl and seems eager for details.  As expected, while we see Helen Hunt in all her full, frontal glory (looking fabulous at age 50), there are no shots of Mark’s penis.

Students handed in papers on the subject of unconscious bias, which, the more I think about it, is impossible to identify.  By definition, if the bias is unconscious, then one doesn’t know it exists.  Can one with certainty attribute it to others, such as the six women jurors in the George Zimmerman trial, which many students wrote about.  Some argue that all white people harbor biases against blacks, even if they sincerely deny it (as I do).  Sometimes though, noticing black men with pants low enough to show off their skivvies, I’ll say under my breath “jail bait,” since the custom supposedly originated in prison as a signal of one’s willingness to engage in sex.  If I see a really cute young black girl with pigtails and all dressed up, the word pickaninny comes to mind and New York governor Al Smith’s racist quote about it being a shame pickaninnies have to grow up.  What I’m really thinking is that their lives seem so full of possibilities, I just hope their future is equally bright. Still I’m not proud of such thoughts and the societal bias they might reflect.

Nephew Joe Robinson recommended the 1941 movie “Hellzapoppin.”  In one scene black musicians are jamming and then joined by dancers performing a wild, wild Lindy Hop.  Some modern critics have found the scene demeaning, but it is wildly entertaining.  Is enjoying this or “Amos ‘n Andy” episodes unconscious bias? 

Chuck Gallmeier was chortling over Purdue president Mitch Daniels’s egregious stifling of academic freedom while governor by attempting to purge Howard Zinn’s American history text from high school and college curricula.  I was tempted to make an analogy to IU’s president denying tenure to a certain lesbian feminist scholar and speculate on the negative publicity that might ensue if and when the story gets out.  Color me naïve, but I still think my university may do the right thing.

On Facebook Brenda Ann wrote: My grandmother was in the workforce at a time where it was more commonplace for women to not have a job outside of the home. She never went to college, and because she had to help on the family farm, she didn't get to finish high school. She's dealt with sexism for most of her 84 years. When I related a story to her tonight about a recent incident I experienced, she shook her head and said, ‘I guess going to college doesn't make people any smarter about reality, does it?  It always comes down to if a man doesn't like what a woman says, she must be on her period.’  She's a smart human being, and I can't begin to relate how much I love her.”
above, posted by Michael Bayer; below, Elaine and Jim Spicer

From Elaine Spicer: Our President had it right, our sons and daughters ARE Treyvon Martin. And for those of us who adopted [nonwhite children] we chose to make their lives in a white world even more ambiguous by having a white family. So yes, in addition to unconditional love, we have to ‘have their backs’. And yes, get out of the comfort zone and have those hard discussions about race and about discrimination and not hide behind ‘how far we have come’ or whatever other platitudes we, as white Americans come up with.”  Last Sunday Elaine and Jim Spicer celebrated their wedding anniversary at Miller Beach Aquatorium, where they wed a decade ago.  At that event was John Sheehan, a poet, peace activist, teacher, and kind soul who died five years ago.  The former priest loved Gary and its people with all his heart.
above, John Sheehan; below, Wallace Bryant, Earl Smith, Frank Smith, NWI Times photo by Al Hamnik
Some 300 people showed up to honor Earl Smith, Jr., at Avalon Manor, including former Emerson stars Wallace Bryant and Frank Smith.  Bryant told Times reporter Al Hamnik that he lives in Stockton, California, and is studying to be a minister while Smith said he is in sales and resides in Fort Worth, Texas.  Smith “always gave it his best effort during his 56 years in the Gary school system,” Hamnik concluded.

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