Long Gone: A Poetry Sideshow

A local woman by the name of Karrie Waarala is putting on a one-woman show at the Riverside Arts Center this weekend, and, as I thought that some of you might find the subject matter of interest, I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions. The show, which is entitled Long Gone: A Poetry Sideshow, opens Friday evening.

Mark: So, what’s the show about?

Karrie: The show tells the story of Tess, a tattooed lady in the circus sideshow, through a series of poems and monologues. I’ve been working on a collection of poems told from the point of view of people in and around the sideshow for the past two years for my MFA, and Tess is one of the two main characters in that collection. The whole thing is sort of a glimpse at the sideshow behind the sideshow… how people like Tess end up there, and the toll a life like that takes. She’s not exactly the well-adjusted type.

long-gone-onlineMark: How much time, if any, have you spent among sideshow folk?

Karrie: I’ve been fortunate while doing research for this project in that all of the circus and carny folks I’ve spoken with have been really warm and welcoming and eager to share their stories. I got the opportunity to interview John Ringling North II, which was fantastic. The fire-eater performing before my show and providing the ballyhoo has been on the World of Wonders, the show run by sideshow great Ward Hall, and has some great stories. But I haven’t run off and joined the sideshow myself. Yet.

Mark: How’d the show come together? When did you have an idea to translate everything to the stage?

Karrie: In my MFA program, the Stonecoast low-residency program at University of Southern Maine, everyone is required to spend their third semester working on a project that is supplemental to our creative writing. I had begun work on a series of circus poems when I started the program in July ’09, which is when I got to see a fellow student perform a one-man show he had created for his third semester project. As soon as I saw that, I knew I wanted to do some sort of stage adaptation as well, since I have a background in performance poetry. At first I was writing all across the circus, and had envisioned a sort of three-ring poetry spectacle with a variety of performers and myself safely in the wings as the writer/director. As I continued to work on the series of poems, however, it became clear that I was focusing on the sideshow, and in particular, these two main characters, a tattooed lady and a sword swallower. Once I realized that, I saw that what I really had on my hands was a one-woman show. Which was scary as hell, but still better than writing a 35-page literary theory paper.

Mark: And you’re in the process of raising money for it on Kickstarter? How’s it going?

Karrie: It went great! Fundraising on Kickstarter ended last Friday, and people ended up pledging 115% of my goal. In exchange for their backing, they’ll get things like tickets to the show, chapbooks, DVD’s, and a couple people even pledged enough to get to get their name or a design worked into the temporary tattoos that are part of my costume. Basically, I sold advertising space on my skin like NASCAR does on cars. Fortunately no one wanted a motor oil logo.

Mark: So, when’s the show, and how much are tickets?

Karrie: This Friday and Saturday, April 1 & 2, at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti. The show starts at 8 pm, but doors to the midway open at 7. We’ve got a fire-eater, a juggler, a fortune teller, a barker who may have some more sideshow fun up his sleeve… Tickets are $10 and available at the door or online.

Mark: Oh, and what brought you to Ypsi?

Karrie: I’m from Milford originally, and moved back to this side of the state for a job in Ann Arbor a few years ago. I got a great job offer in Auburn Hills a year after that, but that was right when the housing market crashed, so I couldn’t sell my place. Stayed in Ypsi and drove back and forth for 4.5 years. I just put aside my career as a library director to be a full-time student/writer about three months ago, and it’s nice to finally get to live in Ypsi instead of it just being the place where I fall over at night. There’s some really awesome stuff going on in this town.

And, here’s an excerpt from the opening poem of the show, from which the title comes:

When this here bundle of escape
wrapped up in lights and canvas
is nothing but a field once more,
when the sideshow has yanked up stakes
and we’re nothing but taillights,
once you wash the cotton candy
out of your one good dress
and the toy soldier your kid won
at the milk can pitch breaks,
when your calendar blanches
back into empty squares,
when the stink of hogs won’t
scrub out of your hair,
when the tractor coughs its last
and the bank calls to inquire
about the flagging mortgage
and we are riding the bills
that lined your pockets yesterday
across a whole map of state lines,
gypsy-blooded and long gone,

where will you be?

~ from “The Tattooed Lady Answers the Marks”

Posted in Art and Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Published accusations of NIMBYism

Did you know that there used to be a print version of AnnArbor.com that came out every day? It was called the Ann Arbor News, and, on occasion, they’d print letters from readers in Ypsilanti. Here’s one of those letters, written by my friend Leighton in 2000, in response to another reader’s idea that Ann Arbor’s homeless be relocated to Ypsilanti, where they’d likely fit in better. It’s not exactly timely, but I thought that it was the kind of thing that deserved to be protected here, in the MM.com archive.


Those of you who would like to give Leighton a piece of your mind, will have ample opportunity to do so in April, as he’ll be traveling across the country, wreaking havoc with the Meatmen.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Snyder to slash unemployment benefits, practice “tough love”

Earlier this evening, I received the following from Mark Brewer, the chair of the Michigan Democratic party.

Today, Governor Snyder signed a bill slashing unemployment benefits for potentially hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers in Michigan and making Michigan the only state in the nation to have fewer than 26 weeks of benefits. The new law cuts state benefits to only 20 weeks and eliminates 16 weeks of benefits covered by the federal government.

How can Republicans cut these benefits in this economic climate? Their attitude toward unemployed workers was exemplified by Republican State Representative Ken Yonker who said that unemployed workers would, “rather be on their unemployment (than working). So, sometimes we’ve got to have tough love.”

Tough love? For hundreds of thousands who are out of work by no fault of their own? Tough love? For Michigan families who are struggling to feed their children and make their mortgage payments? Tough love? This isn’t tough love – it is another Republican attack on the working people of Michigan.

Governor Snyder and the Republicans just don’t get it. Email or call Governor Snyder at (517) 373-3400 and tell him to support legislation restoring these benefits. Tell him we can’t be cutting benefits when families need them most.

Help us fight this law and the Republican agenda in Lansing. Volunteer, donate, or join the Party. You can also follow us on facebook and twitter to learn how you can join the fight. The Democratic comeback is underway. Let’s keep the momentum going.

My first thought was that Brewer must be exaggerating, but I’ve just found confirmation in the New York Times. Here’s a clip:

Michigan, whose unemployment rate has topped 10 percent longer than that of any other state, is about to set another record: its new Republican governor, Rick Snyder, signed a law Monday that will lead the state to pay fewer weeks of unemployment benefits next year than any other state…

The measure, passed by a Republican-led Legislature, took advocates for the unemployed by surprise: the language cutting benefits next year was slipped quietly into a bill that was originally sold as way to preserve unemployment benefits this year…

“It turns the clock back 50 years at a time when unemployment is at historic highs since the Depression,” Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said in an interview, adding that he worried that the state would set a precedent that would be followed by other states, including Florida, that are thinking of curtailing their unemployment programs. “I think that Michigan should not be to unemployment insurance what Wisconsin has become to collective bargaining.”

But Republicans and business groups said that cutting benefits was necessary, because the state’s unemployment trust fund, which was ill-prepared to cope with the Great Recession, is insolvent. The state owes the federal government nearly $4 billion that it borrowed to keep its program afloat, and unemployment taxes on businesses have already been raised, and will need to be raised more, to repay the money. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce called the new law “a huge win for job providers,” and said it could save up to $300 million a year…

And, here’s the funniest part, the headline of the news release issued by the Governor’s office had the following headline… “Snyder Signs Bill to Protect Unemployed.”

Posted in Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire

triangle_fire_aAs I didn’t see it anywhere in the corporate media over the past few days, I thought that I should at least mention that March 25th marked the 100th anniversary of New York’s Triangle Factory Fire. The tragic event claimed the lives of 146 people, most of them young immigrant women, and galvanized the American labor movement. The following overview comes from the Cornell University archives.

…The International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union organized workers in the women’s clothing trade. Many of the garment workers before 1911 were unorganized, partly because they were young immigrant women intimidated by the alien surroundings. Others were more daring, though. All were ripe for action against the poor working conditions. In 1909, an incident at the Triangle Factory sparked a spontaneous walkout of its 400 employees. The Women’s Trade Union League, a progressive association of middle class white women, helped the young women workers picket and fence off thugs and police provocation. At a historic meeting at Cooper Union, thousands of garment workers from all over the city followed young Clara Lemlich’s call for a general strike.

With the cloakmakers’ strike of 1910, a historic agreement was reached, that established a grievance system in the garment industry. Unfortunately for the workers, though, many shops were still in the hands of unscrupulous owners, who disregarded basic workers’ rights and imposed unsafe working conditions on their employees.

Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.

Survivors recounted the horrors they had to endure, and passers-by and reporters also told stories of pain and terror they had witnessed. The images of death were seared deeply in their mind’s eye.

Many of the Triangle factory workers were women, some as young as 14 years old. They were, for the most part, recent Italian and European Jewish immigrants who had come to the United States with their families to seek a better life. Instead, they faced lives of grinding poverty and horrifying working conditions. As recent immigrants struggling with a new language and culture, the working poor were ready victims for the factory owners. For these workers, speaking out could end with the loss of desperately needed jobs, a prospect that forced them to endure personal indignities and severe exploitation. Some turned to labor unions to speak for them; many more struggled alone. The Triangle Factory was a non-union shop, although some of its workers had joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

New York City, with its tenements and loft factories, had witnessed a growing concern for issues of health and safety in the early years of the 20th century. Groups such as the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) and the Womens’ Trade Union League (WTUL) fought for better working conditions and protective legislation. The Triangle Fire tragically illustrated that fire inspections and precautions were woefully inadequate at the time. Workers recounted their helpless efforts to open the ninth floor doors to the Washington Place stairs. They and many others afterwards believed they were deliberately locked– owners had frequently locked the exit doors in the past, claiming that workers stole materials. For all practical purposes, the ninth floor fire escape in the Asch Building led nowhere, certainly not to safety, and it bent under the weight of the factory workers trying to escape the inferno. Others waited at the windows for the rescue workers only to discover that the firefighters’ ladders were several stories too short and the water from the hoses could not reach the top floors. Many chose to jump to their deaths rather than to burn alive…

As others have noted, it’s particularly important that we remember these tragic events today, at a time when our American unions are under assault, and the history of the labor movement is being rewritten.

Speaking of revisionist history relative to the labor movement, did you hear that the Governor of Maine has chosen to make it a priority to paint over a mural at the state’s Department of Labor showing the contributions of Maine’s workers? Here’s a clip from a recent editorial in the New York Times.

As Republican governors vie to become the most anti-union executive in the land, Gov. Paul LePage of Maine has stooped to behavior worthy of the pharaohs’ chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments. Mr. LePage has ordered that a 36-foot-wide mural depicting workers’ history in Maine be removed from the lobby of the state’s Labor Department.

The reason? His office cited some complaints from offended business leaders and an anonymous fax declaring that the mural smacked of official brainwashing by North Korea’s dictator.

This is what’s passing for democratic governance in a state with a noble workers’ history. The mural honors such groups as the state’s shoemakers and the women riveters who kept the ironworks going in World War II. Key workplace moments depicted include a paper mill strike against harsh working conditions and a tribute to pioneer lumberjacks.

All too “one-sided,” decreed the governor, who also ordered that the agency’s seven meeting rooms no longer be named after figures from workers’ history. The nation’s first woman cabinet member — Labor Secretary Frances Perkins — is buried in her beloved Maine, but her room name won’t survive. Nor will state residents be reminded of William Looney, a 19th-century Republican legislator who fought for state child labor reforms….

Speaking of “one-sided,” aren’t child labor laws kind of that way? I mean, they protect kids, but what do they really do for adults? Maybe once we get these terrible murals painted over with corporate logos and the heroic images of old, white captains of industry, we can move on to address that particular injustice. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to share the story of the Triangle Fire with your friends and children, emphasizing what a truly horrible inconvenience it was for the owners of the factory.

In all seriousness, it pains me to know not just that labor is losing power, but that, as a result, more people will lose their lives. It shouldn’t have to be that way. The sacrifices of these men and women in 1911, and all of those who were murdered by Pinkertons and their like, shouldn’t have to be made again. But, as they say, we’re cursed to keep forgetting our past, and the goddamned pendulum keeps swinging. Here’s hoping this time the fight isn’t so brutal, and the costs aren’t so great.


Posted in History, Other, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Going after corporate tax cheats like Bank of America and G.E.

Today was designated a national day of protest by US Uncut – a grassroots organization engaged in direct action against corporate tax cheats. Today’s protests, which took place across 40 states, focused primarily on Bank of America. Here, with more on why Bank of America was chosen as a target, is a clip from The Nation:

…“I’m tired of people calling for shared sacrifice and it’s all coming from the workers and nothing’s coming from the top,” says protester Dave Sonenberg. “I’m sick of companies like Bank of America not paying their taxes.”

Earns Bank of AmericaBank of America hasn’t paid a nickel in federal income taxes for the past two years, and in fact raked in an additional $1 billion in tax “benefits.” The bank is enjoying these profits after accepting $45 billion from taxpayers, which the company then got to count as a deduction when they paid back the money.

Big corporations get to play by a whole different set of rules, says tax expert Bob Willens of New York-based Robert Willens LLC:

“It’s also not unusual for a company to pay no federal taxes, while still paying state and local taxes,” Willens said. “Items that can be deducted for federal purposes aren’t always deductible for state and local returns, he said. State taxes can also be based on the amount of capital deployed in a state, not pre-tax income.”

This is why two-thirds of corporations in America pay no federal income taxes. If they were forced to, we’re told, the whole country would suffer. Jobs would be lost, salaries slashed. Thank heavens we’ve avoided such calamity by allowing corporations to shape legislation in their favor.

In 2010, Bank of America handed out $2.2 million in campaign contributions to congressional representatives and PACs (36 percent went to Democrats, 64 percent to Republicans). By throwing around that much cash, huge companies like BoA have a big say when it comes to crafting legislation that permits them to escape paying taxes, according to US Uncut organizer J.A. Myerson…

As the article mentions, Bank of America isn’t alone either. Several large companies manipulate the system in order to avoid paying federal taxes. The following clip, which is about the sophisticated system employed by General Electric to avoid paying taxes, comes from yesterday’s New York Times.

ge-logoblue-pms7455…The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion…

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.

While General Electric is one of the most skilled at reducing its tax burden, many other companies have become better at this as well. Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less…

And, it’s worth pointing out that this is taking place not only during a period of record corporate profits, but at a time in which our nation is laying off teachers, cutting tuition aid to college students, and slashing budgets for environmental protection. The good news is, people, as evidenced by today’s protests, are beginning to take notice. Now, we just have to wait and see if the movement here really takes hold like it has in Britain, where, it would appear, people are beginning to connect the dots and correctly assign blame.

And, don’t feel bad if you missed today’s protests. There’s something that you can do on Monday morning that’s even more effective. Move your money to a non-profit, community-based credit union.

Update: Here, with more on the G.E. situation, is a note from MM.com reader Glen S.

Since 2001, G.E. has eliminated 34,000 jobs in the U.S., while creating 25,000 jobs overseas. Meanwhile, since the 2008 financial crisis, G.E. has received billions in federal stimulus funds, while paying nearly nothing (and, in some years LESS than nothing) in federal taxes.

The net result? G.E. now finds itself sitting on $79 BILLION in cash — tops worldwide among non-financial publicly-traded companies, or about 62 percent more than the next company, Toyota — and larger than the individual GDPs of 118 of the World’s sovereign nations.

Unfortunately, G.E. is far from an extreme example: In 2010 corporate federal taxes relative to the overall economy reached their lowest level since 1946 — or about 1% of GDP.

Nevertheless, this year U.S. taxpayers (i.e. all of us) will be paying G.E. $3.2 BILLION for the privilege of continuing to do business (and make profits) in the U.S. — an amount roughly equal to TWICE Michigan’s projected budget deficit for the coming year!

Let’s face it: The fiscal “crisis” we are facing is NOT because teachers, firefighters or police officers earn too much. The problem is not that pensions and Social Security are too “generous.” The problem is not because of “greedy” unions, or because there are too many worker-safety, consumer-safety, or environmental regulations tying the hands of business.

The real problem is the insatiable greed, arrogance and lust for power that large corporations and the super-rich have increasingly demonstrated over the past three decades — often facilitated by an unholy alliance of openly sycophantic politicians and, far too often, angry, yet shockingly ill-informed voters.

Meanwhile … lest anybody be too hopeful that any of this might change for the better anytime soon, it is worth noting that President Obama recently chose Jeffrey Immelt — who has chaired G.E. since 2001 — to chair his new “President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.”

‘Nuf said.

Posted in Economics, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments


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