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Politics & the Arts, Internationalism, and Activism: Interview with Gary Corseri

By       Message GLloyd Rowsey       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   4 comments

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Gary Corseri Bio: "Revolution without the Arts is meaningless," writes Gary Corseri, whose articles, poems, stories and plays have appeared in/at The New York Times, Village Voice, Redbook, The Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Japan Times, Georgia Review and hundreds of periodicals and websites worldwide. His dramas have been presented on PBS-Atlanta and in five states, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Dr. Corseri has taught in public schools and prisons in the U.S., and in universities in the U.S. and Japan. He has published two collections of poems. His novels, Holy Grail, Holy Grail, and A Fine Excess, as well as the Manifestation anthology he edited, may be ordered at Borders, etc. He can be contacted at

Lloyd Rowsey Bio: A graduate of Stanford Law School, Lloyd Rowsey worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 23 years. His poems and articles have appeared at OpEdNews and elsewhere. He can be contacted at

LR: Gary Corseri, I'm familiar with your writings some of which are prose-poems - at several notable websites, and from them and from our personal emails, I know that you are a radical, a political activist, an internationalist, and a poet of considerable achievements. Do you have words you can share with us regarding the relation between the arts especially the fine arts as expressed in words or in pictures and political activism?

(In this regard, my take is that the American public is almost oblivious to poetry and fine art. But I consider Barak Obama's victory a sea-change in America, and I'm hoping there will be a comparable sea-change in the American public's appreciation of poetry and pictorial fine art.)

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Your thoughts?

GC: That's a double-barreled question, so let me take them one at a time.

First, thanks for the kind words about the "considerable achievements." I feel okay about what I've done, but from my own viewpoint, I have "Miles to go before I sleep; Miles to go before I sleep."

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You also compliment me as a "radical, a political activist, and an internationalist. I certainly never started out as a radical. I was born and raised in the upper middle class in New York City Brooklyn and Queens. (My parents were actually working class my father a high-school drop-out, but he was successful in the garment trade.) When I was 16, my father retired young - he hated his job - and my family of 5 moved - first to a little 2br apt above a local bar (flashing "bar" sign included) in Queens for 6 months, and then to a little townhome in Miami Beach. I really didn't mind the change in lifestyle. I've never been a materialist. After a year at Miami Beach High, I went to the University of Florida, because it was a land-grant university and was cheap. In my freshman year (I was 17), I considered myself a moderate Republican.

Everything changed in my sophomore year. That was 1964, the Tonkin Gulf incident and LBJ instituting the draft.

The Vietnam War radicalized me. The thought of having to die for my country was hard enough - but I could accept it. The thought of having to kill for my country was totally anathema to me. I didn't buy the argument of the falling dominoes of Southeast Asia, nor any of the tripe about "fighting them there so we wouldn't have to fight them here." I understood that it was an imperialist war, and we were picking up the pieces of the French Empire, trying to establish our hegemony on China's southern border.

I graduated from U.F., won a scholarship to Harvard, where I got into Black studies-reading people like W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Eldridge Cleaver, and Langston Hughes. I taught high school for a year in Massachusetts, taught junior high for a year in San Francisco, then returned to UF, where I was an instructor of English from 1971-1974. For ten transformative years (64-74), I struggled with my country's history. I taught myself about our genocide of the native peoples. I had to let go of all the comforting myths I'd been taught as a kid. I smoked grass, too, and I thought our country's drug policies were insane-mostly punitive of minorities and dissidents. I was all for the Woman's Movement, too. So, you could say I was a radical by my mid-twenties. I like what Henry David Thoreau said, "For a thousand who are hacking at the branches of injustice, one is digging at the roots."

As for "activist," my friend, Garda Ghista, of World Prout Assembly, called me an "activist" earlier this year. I had never thought of myself that way. Like "poet," I think it's an honorary title conferred by others. One doesn't, like Napoleon, crown oneself.

And as for being an internationalist-absolutely. I'm a world citizen. This planet is my home. I don't want to be confined by artificial political borders constructed by powerful men for their own advantages. We find ourselves within certain "countries," and we are restricted by their laws and customs, but we've got to think "out of the box"--or out of the borders-- if we're going to realize the full measure of our humanity; if we're going to save our threatened planetary home.

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As for your second barrel-about the arts and politics...I would say Americans are not so much "almost oblivious" as they are poorly informed and educated. A Korean professor-friend of mine says that people live in either good art or in bad.

LR: That's a simply perfect way to put it.

GC: In other words, the arts-aesthetics-are fundamental to our lives, as much a reason that people fight for their country as mom, flag and apple pie. Every time they play the "Star-Spangled Banner" at a ball-game, the political elite are devoting a couple of minutes to the arts. Unfortunately, it's bad art. In the case of the "Star-Spangled Banner"-the melody is from an old drinking song!--, it's very bad art. Hardly anyone knows the words, and even fewer can sing the high notes. But, it's rousing, martial music that gets people in a fighting mood. Add the pageantry of pretty cheerleaders waving the flag, and we can see how the boys get all sentimental and stiff with patriotism!

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)

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