Chris Rice Cooper

Chris Rice Cooper
Chris, September 18, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Scripted Interview with Poet John Gallaher on "IN A LANDSCAPE"

Chris Rice Cooper 

Scripted Interview with Poet John Gallaher on His Poetry Collection In A Landscape
The Unadorned Nonfiction In Verse

The date you first started writing In A Landscape and the date In A Landscape was completed?
August 25th, 2009 – January 6th, 2010.  I’m guessing.  But it was something like that. 

Can you describe in great detail the step by step process of writing In A Landscape from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final book form?
This book came about through several things happening at the same time.  First, I had just come off a long collaborative project and wanted to do something very different.  I happened to be re-reading John Cage’s book SILENCE at that time, and I had just recently watched a
Pitchfork Classic documentary on the making of The Flaming Lips album The Soft Bulletin, where Wayne Coyne talks about moving away from making things up in his lyrics to just saying what he thought about things.  The Coyne and the Cage went together nicely in my mind, and I decided to try just talking, without thinking what it was leading to. 

I had about an hour every morning in the fall of 2009, before waking the family up for work and school, and I had a little writing ritual I would follow.  I would put on the album In a Landscape, a collection of compositions by John Cage with Stephen Drury on piano.  Then I would ask myself a question and try to answer it without making anything up.  Whatever “without making anything up” might mean. 

That was how I specifically started section one, and I then used the chance elements of how section one turned out, to become something of a blueprint for the rest of the book; how each section usually starts off with something like a general question; how each section is three thick stanzas; how the middle stanza is often unfiltered autobiography.  “Unfiltered autobiography” is as close as I can come to naming the process right now.  Maybe tomorrow I’d name it something else.  But what I mean is that I was consciously trying to not make a poem.  I wasn’t thinking about craft or coherence so much as I was really just turning over ideas and experiences, to see what I thought of them.  People have called this book a “diary-poem,” a “daybook,” “essay-poem.”  I was just trying to think some things over.  I’d recently seen the video (it was everywhere for a time) of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon, and I think a lot of the issues he brought up were still with me. 

As for its form, the book is poetry, it looks like poetry (the lines break!), but yet, it doesn’t do a lot of the things poems usually do.  The “just talking” aspect of the book works against things such as central unity, resolution, and a narrative or formal arc.  I think it helps to hybridize the description.  If one were to come to the poem thinking only “here’s a poem!” that would probably still work fine, but thinking “here’s a shot at non-fiction in verse” might help situate the reading a little more.  I guess I’m just uncomfortable with myself maybe.  I feel very, well, present in this book.  Unadorned, maybe.  There’s not much to hide behind in this book.  It’s all pretty much right there: what I really think about things, what I’ve been through.  And some of it’s slight and some of it’s uncomfortable.  Calling it non-fiction or something makes me feel I have this other genre to help me out, that I can call to for support.  It’s probably just a game I’m playing with myself, but it’s working so far. 

But in a larger context, I’ve written the way I have for years from out of the idea that, as Robert Lowell (right, at the Harvard Bookshop in the 1960s. CCbySA3.0) says, “I wanted to make something imagined, not recalled.”  And to recall, to place memory and my experience to the front like this, that made me very uncomfortable.  All my life I’ve had problems with authority, both as someone living under authority, and being seen in any way as an authority figure.  I am suspicious of closed, or final, authoritative meaning, as well as the authoritative voice.  But at some point I want (or I need) to say things, to name what I believe.  This book is part of that struggle. 

Can you describe the publishing process of In A Landscape?
There’s not much to say about this, really.  The individual sections that were published, were published with the title “In a Landscape” followed by the section number.  As for the book, I was already under contract with BOA from the book I co-wrote with G.C. Waldrep, Your Father On the Train of Ghosts.  BOA had right of first refusal on my next manuscript, and I sent them this one and, bless them, they took it.  It was a gamble on their part, as it’s not an easy book to classify or describe, and I will forever be grateful for their support. 

Excerpt from In A Landscape given copyright privilege by John Gallaher

“Are you happy?”  That’s a good place to start, or maybe,
“Do you think you’re happy?” with its more negative
tone.  Sometimes you’re walking, sometimes falling. That’s part
of the problem too, but not all of the problem.  Flowers out the window
or on the windowsill, and so someone brought flowers.
We spend a long time interested in which way the car would
best go in the driveway.  Is that the beginning of an answer?
Some way to say who we are?

Well, it brings us up to now, at any rate, as the limitations
of structure, which is the way we need for it to be.  Invent some muses
and invoke them, or save them for the yard, some animus
to get us going.  And what was it Michael said yesterday?  That
the committee to do all these good things has an agenda to do all these
other things as well, that we decide are less good in our estimation,
so then we have this difficulty.  It just gets to you sometimes.  We have
a table of red apples and a table of green apples, and someone asks you
about apples, but that’s too general, you think, as you’ve made
several distinctions to get to this place of two tables, two colors.
How can that be an answer to anything? Or we can play the forgetting game,
How, for twenty years, my mother would answer for her forgetfulness
by saying it was Old-Timer’s Disease, until she forgot that too.

On the television, a truck passes left to right, in stereo.  Outside,
a garbage truck passes right to left.  They intersect.  And so the world continues
around two corners.  The table gets turned over, with several people
standing around seemingly not sure of what comes next.  Look at them
politely as you can, they’re beginners too.  And they say the right question
is far more difficult to get to than the right answer.  It sounds good,
anyway, in the way other people’s lives are a form of distance, something
you can look at, like landscape, until your own starts to look that way
as well.  Looking back at the alternatives, we never had children
or we had more children.  And what were their names?  As the living room parts
into halls and ridges, where we spend the afternoon imagining a plant,
a filing cabinet or two . . . because some of these questions
you have with others, and some you have only with yourself.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Two Poems About Tragic Snow In Africa . . .

Chris Rice Cooper 

**The sketches Clear Water and Falling Like Snow attributed to Renee Sheridan.  Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper  

Chris Rice Cooper:
“Two Poems About Tragic Snow In Africa”
Clear Water and Falling Like Snow

Clear Water


couldn’t remember
his mother and aunts,

placing him in the

secret hole of the hut

beneath the table

covered with cardboard, blankets –
their cries, shrill,
the laughing ripping of clothes
from sixteen bodies:

old, young,
widowed, single,
pregnant, barren
ugly, beautiful.

Nothing else mattered.

Abidemi’s dirty fist in his mouth
chocked his cries,

defining his mother’s name:

Their heavy footsteps changed-
silence no longer loud
and then,

the lamenting of blood, dripping,
saturating the blanket, cardboard,
his eyes closed.

This is how it is to be dead.

He stayed,

prayed to Banga***

to change the reality to

a nightmare, dreaming

in black and white,

his bones cold as pieces of white cloud
falling from the sky,

cold, thicker

than the lukewarm water

in the now dry pit,

watching for mother, aunts,
his tongue tasting the cold.

Banga had the power to change history.

His tongue moved into the taste of cold,
but it wasn’t cold.

No pieces of cloud,
but blood, warm. Theirs.

If only bones, clouds could come to life.

Better stay.  Pray
for the nightmare to come.

And he stayed.


Falling Like Snow

Each snowflake,
different from every other,
hits the ground
then melts                                                                         and bleeds into the sewer.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Poet Who Loves Christ Reflects on Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ"

Chris Rice Cooper 

A Poet Who Loves Christ Reflects on
Andres Serrano’s Immersion (Piss Christ)

Whipworms in the Only Sinless Body
that earthly kings refused to touch.

Their Roman soldiers taunting Him at
every drop of feces,
every drip of urine,
crawling down His thighs, legs,
to His feet layered on top of the other;

mocking Him at the surging of His blood
from His head, back, wrists, feet, side, tongue:

God forgive them for they know not what they do.

We imagine clean red blood
laying delightfully on His body
like strawberry wine over a broken wafer.

This poem is not about what we imagine
but the reality of His crude crucifixion

like Serrano’s Immersion (Piss Christ)-
a 60 X 40 Cibachrome Print
of a plastic crucifix in a glass tank of Serrano’s urine.

If Serrano had not placed piss in the title
people would have mistaken it for polyurethane or amber.

Prints of the image have been destroyed.
Where is the plastic crucifix in Serrano’s urine?

I like to think it’s been raised,                                               pointing humanity to the Real Thing.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Civil Rights Activist Silvia Giagnoni and her book FIELDS OF RESISTANCE: THE STRUGGLE OF FLORIDA'S FARMWORKERS FOR JUSTICE "America's Tomato Picker"

Chris Rice Cooper

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

*Portions highlighted in this color are excerpts from Fields of Resistance The Struggle of Florida’s Farmworkers For Justice

Silvia Giagnoni’s Fields of Resistance
The Struggle of Florida’s Farmworkers For Justice.
“America’s Tomato Picker”

Los tomates de Immokalee nacieron verdes
Los hombres al piscar se ponen verdes
Y el comprador nunca pierde

Immokalee’s tomatoes were born green
The men at the time of picking turn green
But the buyer never loses anything

Silvia Giagnoni always remembers seeing a farmworker or migrant worker in her home country of Prato, Italy because it was part of her every day life.
In Italy today, people are from China, Eastern Europe and all over Africa come to look for work.  Most tomato pickers who harvest the fields of Southern Italy are African.  The living and working conditions of these migrants are not dissimilar to the ones of those who are held captive somewhere in the fields of Immokalee.

After she received her Master’s Degree in Mass Communi   
cations from La Sapienza University Rome, Italy she moved to Florida, the fourth state with the most immigrants (California has the most) in 2003.  She settled in Boca Raton, Florida where she attended Florida Atlantic University and received her Ph.D. in Comparative Studies.
While she worked as an adjunct instructor at Florida Atlantic University she wrote about the migrant farmworkers of Immokalee, Florida in the book Fields of Resistance The Struggle of Florida’s Farmworkers For Justice published by Haymarket Books
       Fields of Resistance:  The Struggle of Florida’s Farmworkers for Justice chronicles a seven-month period (between November 2007 to May 2008), the length of the harvest in this part of the country, during which I regularly visited Immokalee and which coincided with crucial moments of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Burger King Campaign.

        We’ve all been to Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, or even drank Coca Cola (owner of Minute Maid) and as a result we all somehow have benefited from paying poverty wages to farmworkers.  Giagnoni insists that it doesn’t matter the legal status of the farmworker; what matters is the American dream – getting a fair wage for his or her work.
Regardless of their status, whether they are American citizens or seasonal workers on H-2A visas or undocumented immigrants Florida farmworkers still earn sub-poverty wages and have no right to overtime compensation health insurance,
or paid vacation.    To begin with, they are asking for fairer wages.  In essence, they are asking the American people to consider who harvests the food that ends up on their tables.
Giagnoni reveals that as of 2011 farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida handpick 90% of the tomatoes consumed in the entire United States.  It is these Immokalee tomatoes that restaurants such as Burger King, McDonalds, and Taco Bell prefer more than any other tomato.

These companies prefer to buy tomatoes grown in Florida, whose consistency makes them easier to slice and, therefore, perfectly for hamburgers.  Although both the United States and Canada import tomatoes from Mexico, where the harvest never stops during the year, those fruits are actually too juicy, and often are ruined by the time they reach their destination.

 Most of the farmworkers in Immokalee are undocumented workers, which makes them prime targets for exploitation by rich farmers and restaurant CEOs due to the fact that there is no federally funded legal services to protect these individuals.

It is these individuals that Giagnoni (far left) spent her time with; getting to know their families, their churches, their soup kitchens, their schools, and more importantly their fight for the farmworker to gain a fair and legal wage.

The narrative unfolds as I meet and interview farmworkers and their families, activists, religious people and social workers.  The book provides a personal account of these encounters, the “everyday life” moments I shared with the people of Immokalee, but also attempts to provide historical and social background to better situate the events.  

       The Immokalee’s Guadalupe Center is a saving presence in these farm workers’ lives.  It offers free clothing, free preschool, and is a free soup kitchen serving hot soup every day for lunch – the only hot meal most of these farm workers will consume in a 24-hour period.  The Guadalupe Center’s main mission is to free the farmworkers from poverty through education. 
Paco “Paquito” Gonzales is an example of this and now works at the Guadalupe Center.  He has been assigned to be Giagnoni’s guide and takes her to one of the rundown mobile homes most of the farmworkers inhabit. 

       Multiple trailers often share the same bathroom. The sewage system is inadequate and very old.  Paco pauses.  Up to fifteen people live in one trailer. They often sleep on the floor without even a mattress, “stuck next to each other like sardines,” as Paco puts it.  To have this space and live in these conditions, some workers pay as much as $300 per month.

       These farmworkers will get up as early as five in the morning to catch the bus to go to the many fields (sometimes three hours distance). 

       Once in the fields, the workers must wait for the dew to dry; picking when the plants are still wet would ruin the tomatoes.  The farmworkers are paid by piece rate and they need to be fast:  in order to earn $50 a day, they must pick four thousand pounds of tomatoes.

The average pay for a tomato picker in 2008 was $400 a week which is about a 14 hour work day – six days a week – which equals to about  $4.64 hour.   And these same migrant workers who earn $4.64 per hour are huge contributors to a global economy of thirteen billion dollars a year.  In 2008, when Giagnoni was in the process of researching this book, the Florida minimum wage was $6.79 an hour.

       Many of these farmworkers are working not only to feed themselves but to also send money back to their loved ones in their home country. Giagnoni met farmworker Jorge who has a wife and three children in Hidalgo, Mexico.  Jorge spends $12 for every five hundred dollars or $15 for every one hundred dollars he sends to his wife via Western Union
It’s a guarantee that the Western Union workers on the other end are getting paid at least minimum wage and are working in a safe and clean environment.  Just like the rich farm owners and rich CEOs of Goldman Sachs.

       After the liberalization of the North American market with NAFTA, U.S. growers have coped with rising operating costs (i.e., gas for transportation) and increased competition from Mexican farmers (by keeping workers’ wages low).  On the other hand, fast food chains’ demands for cheap tomatoes has put additional pressure on the growers.  Thus the idea of paying more for labor, even one cent more per pound, seems like blasphemy.  It’s “Un-American,” according to Reggie Brown (above), vice president of the FTGE.  The arrangement, however, would result in almost doubling the workers’ wages: from 45 to 77 cents per bucket of tomatoes.
“Why would (growers) allow anyone other than their own management to set wage rates?”  Brown added.  Perhaps because the bonuses of top executives of Goldman Sachs, the primary bank holding company subsidizing Burger King, exceeded $200 million in 2006. Twice as much as the amount ten thousand tomato pickers collectively earned in South Florida during the same year.
       The irony is that the famous one cent per pound is not even coming out of the farmers’ pocket; the world’s largest fast food restaurant company Yum! Brands – which controls Taco Bell and McDonalds are paying for the

       In May of 2008 Giagnoni details the victory of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers  Burger King agrees to give the farmworkers a 71% raise – from 45 cents to 77 cents per bucket of tomatoes.   They still do not get sick leave, vacation leave, or health insurance (even though they are exposed to harmful pesticides) but it is still a victory.

       In the epilogue Giagnoni gives the readers an update of all the people she had contact with and where they are now.  She also describes Immokalee as a place that gave her purpose and the needed drive to carry on. 

       Immokalee became the place where I would go to regenerate, where I returned to look for the core of things.  It was almost as if I were striving to recuperate a sense of authenticity that I felt missing in coastal Florida.

Giagnoni pleas for all American citizens to have the courage to make themselves no longer invisible – and to become visible on behalf of the migrant farmworker and for the sake of justice.

This remoteness, this invisibility, contributes to a generalized sense of disconnection (from the land and those who work it) that is also a form of alienation, and it ultimately hides the fundamental injustice on which Western societies like ours are based upon.  So when farmworkers stage protests in the streets, and the invisible becomes visible again:  choosing to not see then means to living in denial.  And it makes us all complicit, whether we like it or not.

*Silvia Giagnoni is now an American citizen and resides in Montgomery, Alabama where she is Associate Professor of Communications and Theater at Auburn University of Montgomery.  
She maintains a blog at http://anitalian
and can be contacted via Facebook at  https://