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From the week of September 4, 2003


A Wrinkle in Rhyme

Slam on wry:About three weeks ago I attended poetry night at the Mercury Cafe. In addition to hearing the flabbergasting triteness of the many solo poets, I had the displeasure of witnessing the so-called poetry slam team that Westword featured in "Poem on the Range," Laura Bond's August 21 cover story.

The half-baked bile spewed forth in my general direction was troubling at best. The topics -- banal and pithy offerings such as "suburbia," "society" and "the media" -- came across as staggeringly juvenile and pedantic. Am I to believe that these musty paleolithic concepts are to be regarded as still relevant in the least? Suburbia is a cultural wasteland? There are problems with society? The media is severely biased and unrepresentative? Oh, my God -- I had no idea!

Thank you, poets, for you have holistically enlightened my brainwashed mind! At least the kids had conviction; hopefully it will someday be put to better ends than vocalizing the emotional gamut of the average sixteen-year-old!

Will Minor
Denver

Root, root, root for the poem team: After reading Laura Bond's "Poem on the Range," I attended my first poetry slam -- featuring Denver's National Poetry Slam team -- on August 23 at Cafe Netherworld. The Denver team lived up to its admirable sixth-place finish at nationals and more, delivering a poignant performance at the cafe. As a former newspaper writer, a current technical writer and an aspiring novelist, I was inspired to write creatively more often. Hats off to the poets.

Thanks much to Laura Bond, whose writing communicated well the anxiety and exhilaration that poets feel while performing at a high-caliber poetry slam. Cheers, Laura, for an article that had me rooting, nearly short of breath, for our Denver poets.

Christopher Jacquin

Denver

And the beat goes on:Poetry slams are tragically stupid. The oft-strange nuance of poetic expression cannot be reduced to a beauty contest, especially within environments that have stylistic preferences, sometimes even xenophobic fervor for insiders over outsiders. The best writers and poets are ideally outside of all movements, especially those that regard themselves as utmost hip by some affiliation or associative succession. The best way to judge poetry is to let it simmer on the aftertaste of humanity for a hundred years after its author is gone. The open mike is not a place for snap judgments fit for a totem pole.

Slams are intended to showcase leaders in a world where heroic figures are desirable among those who seek to keep movements in thrust. The Beat founders, in particular, seem to be sorely missed and cause for nostalgic regurgitation. It is quite ironic that a poseur "beatnic" lifestyle was born in the 1950s to imitate Beat styles without any connection to core Beat philosophy -- namely, the philosophy of finding liberation in the perseverance of real identity amid being beaten down on a very personal level, repressed and excommunicated from social mainstays. Putting ambient music or bongos to poetic words is about as close as beatnic gets to Beat. Slammers likewise are totally out of touch with the muse -- but are certainly in love with their own egos.

Ranking poets for "performance" and declaring some of these poets superior can be discouraging to rank amateurs, whose poetic expression is often superior to competitive poets. I'll take the painfully shy twig of a girl poet any day over the rhetorical spout, the charlatan, the slammer or the audience who thinks rank is important or in any way close to accurate.

In a mere generation I expect you will find that slam is but a plastic niche soon to be exceeded by the anti-slam movement, currently microscopic in size but with at least one active poetry group in New York, and slam haters found all over the Net. Any poet who writes to impress his peers or to gain "credibility" is pretty much misguided and has no clue. Winning a slam can even discredit you in the eyes of some poets.

Forget the glory of winning! Screw the empty rhetorical milieu of the slam. Fix your heart and mind on some durable hard-beaten rubber soul, preferably your own. Then maybe you'll slowly become a poet. Even bad poets are often better writers and orators than great masters of verbosity. These cliquish scenes and popularity contests and those who promote them implore my most passionate indifference. I hear the muse, not some naive starstruck dupe in the local Earth-mother granola salon.

Vincent B. Rain

Denver


Sick Humor

Jewel of the Nile:Kenny Be's "Do You Have the West Nile Virus...Yet?" was absolutely brilliant. This man is a genius. And I'm not saying that because a West Nile virus-induced fever has affected my brain.

With his August 21 Worst-Case Scenario, Kenny's cured me of hypochondria for good.

Jules Thompson
Boulder County

One-word scenario:Regarding the cartoons of Kenny Be and Tom Tomorrow:

Wonderful!

Barbara Moe
Denver


They Speak Volumes

Staff infection:I've read Stuart Steers's articles on the Denver Public Library's problems with budget, volunteers and morale, most recently "Overdue Notice," in the August 28 issue. I share his concerns.

The library, like the rest of the city, is experiencing a severe budget crunch. The library administration, headed by City Librarian Rick Ashton, has taken measures to cope with the deficit. Staff jobs have been cut, vacated staff positions have not been filled, and library hours have been cut back. In addition to these measures, Mr. Ashton has taken charge of most library fundraising and proposes the formation of a special tax district to bankroll this popular institution, thus freeing the library from accountability to the Denver city government.

As a retired staff member of the Denver Public Library, I am very much opposed to the formation of such a tax district.

At a recent meeting with the Library Commission, some library volunteers expressed concern over the way new and used materials are being handled at the Central Library and its branches. Branches have disposed of as much as 25 percent of the print collections in order to create space for thousands of new videos, CDs and DVDs. The disposal of print materials has been done almost at random and without concern for the needs of library patrons. The Cherry Creek branch, for instance, has no Encyclopedia Britannica because it "wasn't being used enough." At the Ford-Warren branch, a non-Spanish-speaking staff member was told to "weed" the Spanish-language collection even after informing regular staff members that she had no idea what she would be throwing away. The waste is astonishing.

In his August 7 "Checked Out," Steers pointed out another important library problem: Morale among library staff and volunteers is very low. As one longtime staff member put it, "We used to have low morale. Now we have no morale at all." The library has less staff to do more work, and volunteers are discouraged from doing most of the wide range of jobs for which they were trained. Members of the library staff are often overworked and worn out. The pleasure that so many of us found in our work has nearly evaporated. Very little, if anything, is being done to make staff members and volunteers feel appreciated and feel that their hard work is valued by Ashton, his fellow administrators and some branch supervisors.

Many staff and volunteers have "voted with their feet" and moved on to other library districts or to early retirement. I retired in March 2003 after 22 years of service.

To give the Denver Public Library the liberty to continue these kinds of waste and mismanagement of material and human resources without supervision would be unfortunate at best.

Carolyn Haenselman
Denver

Man overboard:My thanks to Stuart Steers for spotting the iceberg that threatens the titanic Denver Public Library. City Librarian Rick Ashton is "captaining" the DPL in such a puerile and egomaniacal manner that he appears to be adjusting the course in order to hit that ominous iceberg head on.

While Ashton shouts "We're the number one library in the country!" (read "I'm the King of the World!"), there are many people below decks who are uncertain of their future. I know this because I am shoveling coal in the engine room.

With many unwarranted changes, staff reassignments (some of which smack of punishment for speaking up), promotions seemingly predicated on the candidates' ability to see nothing, say nothing and do nothing, job descriptions for newly created positions written so that staff can predict exactly who is being called to service because only one person fits the qualifications -- we are a staff demoralized.

Stuart Steers reported that an internal memo prepared by the financial office said the now mostly defunct Friends Foundation had an overhead cost of .78/1.00 earned. With the Friends out of the picture, who is doing all the work for fundraising at the library? Could it be library employees, diverted from other assignments, some of them earning in excess of $80,000 a year? Someone grab a calculator.

Regarding the proposed library district: Mr. Ashton, you might want to get your staff on board before you set sail. And to Mayor Hickenlooper: S.O.S! Remember, when you spot an iceberg, only 10 percent shows on the surface.

Keep ringing that warning bell, Mr. Steers.

Name withheld on request


Mind Over Mutter

Heavy-mental music:I was extremely disappointed by Jason Heller's "Man Posse," in the August 14 issue. To call a style of music "electro-booty bass retard" is demeaning to people with mental retardation and perpetuates a hateful stereotype of a population that I consider a silent minority. To equate exploring "retarded ways to make music" with "making farting sounds into my Casio...and screaming, 'Party! Party'..." shows a level of insensitivity that's mind-boggling.

Mental retardation and related developmental disabilities affect about 1 percent of the population. In Colorado alone, with a population close to 4 million, these disabilities impact an estimated 40,000 individuals. Day-to-day living can be a challenge for an individual with mental retardation, and would certainly not be considered a party by anyone. The term "retarded" is no longer used to describe a person with developmental disabilities and is considered derogatory by people with developmental disabilities, their families and people who work with them (such as myself ).

I consider Westword an intelligent and viable alternative to the daily newspapers, and being a musician I have always appreciated your commitment to the music scene in Colorado. I do not think that it is necessary to demean a vulnerable population to promote a certain style of music. I question the intelligence behind Diggie Diamond and the International Male and wonder why, if they are truly talented, they find it necessary to pick on people with disabilities to get their point across. I am equally disappointed with Westword for helping them to promote their agenda by giving them press they don't deserve.

Bret Billings
via the Internet


You Call This Progress?

Giving Roberts the business:The Progress and Freedom Foundation is flattered that Westword's Michael Roberts took the time to attend our Aspen Summit ("The Rah Expedition," August 21). Digital economy issues, regulatory policy and intellectual property law tend to induce catatonia in normal people, so Mr. Roberts is to be commended for his fortitude.

I would like to offer a couple of modest correctives to his column. First, my belief in competition is not animated by fondness for business. It is based on a belief that competition, properly understood and, yes, properly regulated, is better for consumers than regulation more often than not. Call it laboring under false consciousness if you will, but consumer welfare is the standard that guides our analysis at PFF. To be sure, we will more often than not support market mechanisms and deregulation, but we reach that conclusion based on consumer-welfare analysis. As a general matter, the history of regulation is one where regulation is perverted to private ends and fails to constrain monopoly pricing. Markets tend to correct errors quickly, whereas regulators' errors tend to become institutionalized and compound upon themselves. Therefore, deregulation and traditional free-market mechanisms will usually serve consumers better than old regulatory modes. Second, of course, we were honored by Justice Scalia taking time to join us. That said, these regulatory issues do not break out on a predictable left/right axis. For instance, Justice Breyer has been the most outspoken critic in the courts of the FCC's highly regulatory actions since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, writing dissents to Justice Scalia's majority opinions. As between Breyer and Scalia on the economics of the FCC's actions, I'll take Breyer.

Furthermore, President Clinton first appointed then-commissioner and now Chairman Michael Powell to the FCC. While the chairman is portrayed as a hell-bent deregulator, the more accurate description of Powell would be of a cautious, principled and measured regulator, who lets the economic analysis and underlying facts guide his regulatory decisions. (Indeed, free-market advocates like PFF have been impatient with Powell and his caution.) Ultimately, I don't think that regulatory policy neatly breaks down between deregulatory Republican plutocrats versus pro-regulation Democrat consumer-rights advocates. There is a rough correlation that Republicans are for markets and Democrats for regulation, but there is much incoherence, too.

In any event, we appreciate Westword's reporting on the summit, and the opportunity take your stage with our "cosmically dull" (Mr. Roberts's words) issues.

Ray Gifford, president
The Progress and Freedom Foundation


Buddha Call!

If you knew Shoshu...:Your characterization of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) in the August 21 Off Limits was extremely one-sided and offensive to the Nichiren Buddhists living in the Denver area. You aired some very old and discredited allegations with no apparent effort to present a balanced or truthful picture.

For the record, there are no known allegations of Soka Gakkai leaders having a dispute over prostitute bills. Second, Mr. Ikeda left Nichiren Shoshu, along with 12 million members of the Soka Gakkai International -- roughly 95 percent of the Nichiren Shoshu membership. This split was inevitable, given the outgoing and engaged style of Soka Gakkai versus the more insular and doctrinaire manner of the Nichiren Shoshu leadership.

It is unfortunate that your reporter did not take the time to learn more about the group he was defaming. He/she would have learned that the SGI-USA is the largest and most diverse Buddhist association in the U.S., and that we seek to help people -- through Buddhist practice -- to cultivate the virtues of responsibility, wisdom and compassion in their daily lives. Locally, the SGI-USA/Denver and its over 3,000 members have been civicly active and contributive to the Denver metro community for over 33 years.

Chris Risom, director of community affairs
SGI-USA Buddhist Association, Denver region

Soka to me:Buddhism is a religion; SGI is a religious corporation. Buddhism teaches the wonderful dharma; SGI teaches the greatness of its president, Daisaku Ikeda, and his interpretation of Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhists who defend SGI as a "faith" (as C.L. Harmer seems to in her August 28 letter) may not know that Ikeda is proud of his friendship with the late Zhou En-lai and Deng Xiaoping, Chinese leaders responsible for the genocide of more than a million Tibetan Buddhists (see http://www.sokagakkai.info/html1/news1/headlines1/00cal1/00jul09-15_1.html).

I am cynical about SGI's so-called peace efforts, but my cynicism is informed by thirteen years of affiliation with SGI. If anything, the experience has taught me the difference between a person of faith and a peace poseur.

Lisa Jones
Denver


Arms and the Men

Fire when ready:I, for one, would like to chime in with Fred Cummins from Freeport, Texas, on firearms freedoms (Letters, August 7). I'm sure he's going to be painted with the Retrograde Redneck brush, yet look at what decades of "progressive" and "reasonable" gun legislation has brought us: Dare thee walk down an alley in Denver at night all by thyself?

I am a firm believer in the Dick Valentine Theory of Crime Reduction: Issue everyone a surplus M1911 and 500 rd to carry whensoever and wheresoever they want, and watch what happens. The crime rate would go sky-high for about a month and then would drop to zero after the hotheads and boneheads shot each other up. Yeah, there'd be some innocents lost, but I'll bet there'd be fewer than the innocents lost under our present system of maternalistic firearms "protectionism."

And yes, Mommy, gunses are clanky and noisy and ugly, and I might get myself all hurted. Yes, and I run with scissors, too, Mommy.

And lest ye think I'm nuts, take a realistic look at some "hidden" statistics -- that is, "hidden" from your eyes by the media. The mere presence of a firearm, without a shot being fired, has prevented many thousands of folks from being crime victims every year. You want some more realism? Our nation's capital has the highest crime rate and the most restrictive firearms laws. And Vermont, with one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, has no restrictions at all on carrying firearms.

Sorry, Mommy, but that's the way it is.

Dick Valentine
Denver

Mr. Stanley, we presume: In response to the July 24 Off Limits regarding myself, which was filled with errors, omissions, journalistic larceny and deceit, I have the following to say:

1. "Arguing he had a right to 'brandish' weapons in Denver." Untrue. I have a God-given, constitutionally protected and guaranteed right to "openly carry" in Denver or anywhere else in Colorado, without getting permission or permit from anyone. I never brandish and never argued to brandish. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Heh. Heh.

2. "Stanley insists that an attack is imminent." Untrue. I said that "eventually" the SWAT-team action would happen. The article fails to mention that the hearing the bench warrant was based upon was vacated by Judge Patterson, as was the bench warrant, because both government actions were unlawful.

3. "Helicopters will be destroyed if used against me, as will tanks...." You curiously omitted the next sentence, which said I would be throwing paper airplanes at them. Obviously, I was joking, but Westword must demonize this crackpot, mustn't we?

4. The "speculation" by Westword and Denver's response were typical yellow journalism and cheap shots. I thought the Rocky was a rag. The once-proud Westword rises to "new lows?" With friends like these....

I suggest your readers go to www.stanley2002.org for the truth, since they can't get the truth in Westword.

Rick Stanley
Denver

Amy Haimerl replies: If Rick Stanley wants to quibble over words, he should grab his copy of Webster's and look up "brandish," which has a tertiary meaning of "to display." Sure, "brandish" is usually used in a menacing way -- but if you've whipped it out, you'd better mean to menace. Coming from a gun-brandishing family, I know that's one of the first rules of good gun ownership. For the record, in his slew of e-mails and in our phone conversation, Stanley never referred to "paper airplanes." Had he, I can assure you that line would have been used. And finally, I'd apologize for "demonizing a crackpot" -- but Stanley does such a good job of demonizing himself.

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