Popular Culture and Democracy:
An Easy/Uneasy Relationship
10th International Colloquium of American Studies, Olomouc, August 31 - September 5, 2003

These poems were presented at the poetry reading of Colloquium 2002.

Anny Ballardini NEW!
Charles Gannon
Walter Hoelbling
Ivan M. Jirous
Jaroslav Seifert


Anny Ballardini

pop-dem or dem-pop?

deprived of our state of unicity
democracy should be at the door
invited to enter and comfortably sit
on its luxurious red velvet green silk throne
hasn't art taken shoes on gallery walls
marlyn's with liz's & cokes dishes coffee cups
& monas and lisas with widgets for all?
it's pop starting right from the dock
flags are a painting in strata of
muscles fishes blond thin silvery hair
on high heels flat sandals plastic
me the same as you
are you sure
is this democracy asked a shy shade
walking through a crowded parking lot
traffic lights lights in the dark mists of smoke
constitution was thundering from unrolled
past fringes and streaks of unseen faces
a communality of tensed spaces dusty books
have locked few remembered names
will you be
in the book
doesn't democracy dictate it - stated a panther-like
red mane nails and perfume sexily shown
- unicity or leveling -
what is democracy
who is pop
when will pop-democracy be sealed on our frontal canvas
with statues pears open-curtains & actual drops
of rain or flakes of snow without a party
with the feast of people but that was communism



Charles E. Gannon


Because summer's golden gleaming dawn
And burning bright blue skies
Become watered yellow and dusty rose
And wrinkled grey in slow demise;
Leaves flutter down at earthward call:
For more than this, we name it `Fall'.

When geese sunward winging distant cry
-Defiant deathless vee-
Past patchworks faded, furrowed brown,
Beyond where winter's eye can see;
Where living warmth returns them bold:
A consolation men call cold.

For we wait on winter's durance long
For desolation's gift
Through the passing of the lives we loved
And of the loves we lived;
For barren fields give green anew
And geese retrace the paths they flew,
For dying's what the deathless do
And sun and snow both drift.

Charles E. Gannon (c) 1993



Serengheti Muse

Now, at the dry season
Senseless hunger prowls the grass
Littered with penfeathers.
Hawk and dove are missed by winged epochs:
Carcasses for carrion critics,
Overfed from waning flocks--

- meager morsels on parched plains, where
This driest season
Burns music water
Into empty mist

While the eager napkined banqueteers
Strut and jostle
Cheer and jeer
Even glad for gristle.
So lean, so coarse, so carrion right:
Each dainty vulture gets a bite
Of poet dodoes, dwindling fast;
The quills they eat are theirs

--at last.

Charles E. Gannon (c) 1988-1994


Takeoff from O'Hare
The Drouth of An Airborne Runner
(with a strange debt to Randall Jarrell)

Up in and upon the clouds,
The shadow of this plane
haunts the center of a rainbow bull's eye:
The optical illusion
Becomes omenical allusion

that parts and reveals
Fragments of factories,
homes, hayfields; hat-tricks
Of proliferate humanity
Become profligate profanity.
This is what we are
from tow miles up
from six feet under:
Pains, and panics, and
Parturitions without number.

High aloft and belted in
Against the turbulence,
I fall into the belly of this State
of confusion.

Charles E. Gannon (c) 1994


Stained Glass

When red crashing glass
shatters like stained windows
of blood and roaring
thunder fills our silences with threat
s from a mindless moving canvas
--bursting with metal visions--
then we know that we just don't.

The score races on, bareback
sonata-busting without a conductor or
even a whistle to blow `caution; danger
on the tracks ahead'--
just the french horns, riding the flutes under;
silver keening drowned out by raucous golden surf,
All vaporized by the unheard bass drum of atoms colliding
and creating all melodies in a single moment
of perfect dischord.

In a single act, we see all others. The technoscope Tarot
gushing probable impossibilities disguised as
cups and swords and lovers and
death, lurking behind every late-breaking story;
the message of our age
is a way to sell popcorn, cleansers,
and empty time filled with the threat of ourselves
looking at ourselves and seeing only

The fading fog of a winter breath,
the half-memory of an unmet face,
an empty room where once we lived,
the shadow of a forgotten thought.

now blending into an infinity
of horizontal lines, actinic and empty;
day's end aftertaste of the electronic opium, of

A body pierced and propped on the dripping pinnacles
of a shattered storefront window.
The shootout is over and
the only homage to memory is
stained glass.



Graffiti: An Exercise In Doggerel

Scrawled upon the stolid rock
Mortal unbecomes;
A name to last when flesh has passed.
Reason wholly dead in parts
Despairing of their sums.

Mercenary pen and brush
Art for sale or hire-
Tooth and nail, they die to fail
Finding rest as noble dead:
The bringers of the fire.

Paid in full with timeless fame
Corpses clutch to keep
Their martyr's pay; to last a day
Past what men forget as dead.
Immortal thus, they sleep.

Rocks bemused at manunkind
Shrug as they are cut
For fate assures that signatures
Crack apart and wash away
Where time and man abut.

Morrow creeps to yesterday
Oak from seed explodes;
Where prides assail, the waves prevail,
Receding, leaving man anew
To contemplate the rock that goads.



One-Hundred and Fifty Years Later
(dedicated, with regret, to Walt Whitman)

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt,
we took on water--
grey, viscous, unreflective swells--
Courtesy of carbon-hazed skies
and sunken polar caps,
Glacial razor edges rounded,
pounded, by captive corruscations of a

Sunny day? Who can tell
here in Brooklyn,
where the only bright beams that matter are
now stilled, forgotten, made ridiculous
by this penultimate proof of its futility.

One with all, you
said you were, Walt;
social top and bottom-
Now Walt, tell me true;
are you one with

Eyes that stare from the shadows between shattered bricks,
ready, unblinking, unselfaware
except for a need
--not to live, to sing, to work--
but to be, without reflection, remorse, or
recourse to compassion.
In that white pitiless stare--cracked with hairline lightning red,
There is only the poetry and music abandoned at Olduvai, where
rhymes are strangled entreaties
for shreveless mercy;
where meter is the metronomic crunch of rusted rebar
against splintering bones;
and crescendoes swell up out of the fluted barrels
of night-sighted Uzis,
a staccato chorus ripping the dark apart
with long shuddering muzzle flashes--
rage-white tongues of prayer
cycling endlessly--
entreating a nameless black god

That never lived in your mind, poor Walt
But--then as now--waited within the dark swells,
to bump its benthic back against the thin hull
of this black ferry.

Charles E. Gannon (c) 1995-1996


Walter Hölbling


September 112001 - II

september has become
the cruellest month

hollywood disasters
at their worst
flipped to reality

as if
we had needed that
as if
we had not known
that life is fragile
and tall buildings
can collapse
taking thousands
to sudden death

what is the point?

to prove
that one can bring
to the undefended?

to demonstrate
that minds bent
on destruction
can succeed
if they plan long enough?

what a waste
of lives and minds...
and more to follow
most likely

does wordless violence
solve anything?

the heartless deed
the glamorous sacrifice
that calls for more
and more
and more
neurotic spirals
of destruction, retaliation
and revenge
instead of global peace
now looms spectral war
born from self-righteous pride
the need to strike out
fast and hard
against whoever fits
intelligence-created data
transferred to screens
meticulously marked
cooly oblivious of the people
who work and procreate
and live
in those fluorescent blips

domesticated energy
serves the omnipotent
two millionaires' sons
turned public enemies
upon whose final global showdown
the death of yet more
and children
to satisfy the need
for a just universe
where power flows
by laughter and the sounds
of real people
in a real world

* * *




courting the sun
after a cool June
in my vintner's garden
close to the southern border

carefully sipping
his latest selection
a good year
you can taste it

looking out from the hill
across the river valley
I listen to his children
proudly telling how
only yesterday
they filled 50 sandbags
just in case

the deafening roar
of an interceptor jet
splits the air
just for seconds
leaves my wine glass

three helicopters
slash their way south
and come back later

over the winding road
on the next hill
the last tank of the column

we can hear
not far away
over there
sounds like explosions

we enjoy the sun

Helmut opens another one
of his treasured bottles
and tells me
what he will do
if They come across

he is a good hunter
and an excellent shot

I sip the clear wine
watch how the sunlight
lends its brilliance
to the half-filled glass

I feel a little bit
like Humphrey Bogart
in the wrong movie.

(On the Yugoslav border, July 1, 1991)

* * *




try to imagine
your own death

at first
your mind just balks
at the idea

but once you concentrate
you may get puzzled
at the endless opportunities
you have
of dying

warming to the subject now
images start flitting through your mind
like you were flipping TV channels
by remote control

you see yourself dead
with a trickling bullet wound
in some dark street
victim of street crime unpredictable

or have a vision
of a scene of accident
where white-clad helpers
carry a distorted body
to a waiting van
in vain

or you are in a clinic
rigged to electronic gear
the nurses look discouraged
slowing beeps
flattening curves on monitors
and you feel darkness creeping in

or you blow-dry your hair
with the old dryer
and the bathroom floor
is just a little bit
too wet

a plane falls from the sky
in a fireball

a stone gives on the mountain path

you ski into whiteness

the railing breaks

lightening flashes

a snake bites

what -

all of a sudden
options explode
your mind reels from the truth
that death is all around
in infinite variety
and may be yours


or a second later


(May 1991, on the train, reading about a train crash in the newspaper....)

* * *


Having just climbed
through ages
up what seemed an endless flight
of narrow winding gothic spiral stairs
I step out
right into the wind's brute force
my arms grasp for a hold
fearful lest I blend suddenly
with the white horses
and the fields of the Camargue
far down below

Wedged safely
in a nook of stone
a hefty tourist
leans out wide between the walls
toward the setting sun

her summer skirt is blown waisthigh
unexpectedly delicate lace
above sturdy thighs

her body opens
to the strong soft touch
of the Mistral

A little later
she walks past me
clothes gathered
level gaze calm
and self-assured

and leaves me wondering
whether the mighty abbot
on his solitary tower
and his exclusive brotherhood of men
had ever understood
the wind that blew
and still blows
through two feet of stone
like they were silk
and thrills a woman
to her bone

* * *


People that `are'
of those who still `become'
speak lowly
treasuring the edge
they have
by luck or by some clever sleight of hand
gained in the race for being

Sometimes I wonder
where I am
am I
or am I not
do I become
and if so
will I ever be
what others are
where others are
(or think themeselves to be)

those who appear so sure
of what and where they are
have at their backs
the everlasting fear
that when they are
where they have liked to be
there always are
the others who were there
some time before
and now
are somewhere else
happy again
that they are
where and what
others still struggle to become

to be where I am
suits me fine
I do not care exactly
this is
if only I still see
a chance that I become
that is I change
and not just be

There is
it seems to me
too little space
between to be
not to be.
September 1990

* * *


a certain morning stiffness
in your joints

you find your face
in the bathroom mirror
and wish you hadn't

the puzzled wisdom
of middle age
wavers from your eyes
deepening wrinkles
of many laughs
many frowns

how many more?

nevermore ?!

the room becomes aflutter
with poesque ravens
the presence of absences
fills the void
your life is on the brink
of deconstructing itself
to the periphery of the universe
a discourse of silence
forever becoming ... becoming ...



you close your eyes
for a minute or two

when you look again
you meet the stare
of a not-so-bad-looking
man in his best years

graying sideburns
receding hairline
20 pounds too many
a firm decision
to work them off

still a bit sleepy
yet determined
to shave
get dressed
have breakfast

and teach
that wonderful seminar
on 19th century U. S. poetry
to eager graduate students

* * *


if at all,
how to approach?

if approaching,
how to be accepted?

if being accepted,
how to avoid
too much of it?

if successfully avoiding,
how not to hurt
or miss
the most important?

if not avoiding,
how to maintain

if maintaining,
more or less,
your sense of self,
how to transcend it?

and if transcending,
how to appreciate
the other
for what s/he is?

how to be close
without the pain
of loss
upon retreat?

how to acknowledge
that the other
always is
out there
and yet
in here?

* * *


times are
when words seem
to have lost
their power
to be spoken

they stubbornly refuse
to form
on the same lips
from which they flowed
only a heartbeat

difficult words
they have become

I love you

forgive me

I love you

* * *


we may loose
each other
as suddenly as
we met
years ago
under a bluer sky

many steps
have already
been taken

rituals of complaint
that point
to deeper troubles

no talk
about certain things

a joking camouflage
for unspoken

gestures of weariness
of irritation
and withdrawal

embarrassed silence
across the double bed

five billion people
in their separate worlds

the next step
may be

so easy

* * *


the pain
of having to let you
go your way

after such loving days

pulls my face
into a joyous smile
makes me speak
words of reassurance
crack jokes
ostentatiously enjoy
a Manhattan at lunch time
and boisterously hug you
au revoir

to overcome
unshed tears
the hardening lump in my chest
the tightening knot in my stomach
the cold fist that grips my neck
tightens my throat
makes my eyes dry
with the knowledge
you will not be
by my side
for weeks

* * *



decisive words
take their time

they reveal their significance
like buds unfolding
nourished by the soil of doubt
the rain of memory and meditation
gradually to the troubled soul

until the flower
of loss

in full bloom

makes you tremble
at its pristine

* * *


the world is slowing down

a mist of milky gossamer moves in
my will and things to do
the hard outlines of objects
are growing soft and dull
the moment's urgency
yields to my pondering
of possible decisions
abstract rigidity arrests the words
things stay forever as they are

is it a sense of death
that delicately touches on my neck
and steals from me the comfort
of continuous change?

life seems to walk away
in long and measured stride
the kitchen clock has never been so fast

it measures time
from here up to the stars

it counts
and blows
the moments of my delicate eternity
one by one
into the past

* * *


thinking of times
when walking for a mile
took you into a different world
climbing a hill
through clinging underbrush
filled you with apprehension
of what might be waiting for you
on the crest

to slowly open up
the pages of a book
was always more
than just a ritual of escape
the not so casual touch
of a girl=s hard breast
a boy=s lean hand
upon your shoulder
sent shudders down your spine
of inarticulate hot expectations
and brought wild images to you
at night
in lusting isolation

to keep this core
the sense of awe
of wonder and excitement
alive in you against the waves of many years
is not an easy feat
yet worth the while

it makes you see
when many just walk by
life=s gracious beauty of small moments

* * *



quipping maliciously
the learned scholar
outdid himself
and keeled over backward
into a huge barrel
of seething criticism

* * *

The hard core of the Colloquium enjoying their well-deserved beers: Bernd "Berry" Herzogenrath, Walter Hoelbling, Norby Gyuris, Doro Schoeppl, and Bob Hysek. In the background you can see Prof. Peprnik and Emory Elliott.


"….Holan was on his death-bed for a long time. The telephone often fell out of my hand. In the damned bird-cage of Bohemia he threw his poems with contempt like pieces of bloody meat. But the birds were afraid…"

Jaroslav Seifert
The Head of the Virgin Mary (1979)

In one of the rare moments of the year
I opened the window, the hinges screeched.
Autumn has come.
Still silky, blood-sprinkled,
And with a soft touch of sadness.
The time when human wounds
Begin to ache more.
I visited Vladimír Holan.
He was ill.

He lives at the seminary,
Close by the river Lužice.
The sun had just set behind the houses,
The river rustled quietly
And shuffled its wet cards
For the evening game.

No sooner had I come, Holan abruptly closed his book
And asked me somewhat angrily,
Whether I believe in the afterlife
Or something even worse.

But I didn´t hear him.
I noticed a cast of a woman´s head
Lying on a small cabinet by the door.
Good heavens,
I know that face!
Resting there,
As if under the guillotine.

It was the head of the Virgin Mary
From the Old Town Square.
Precisely sixty years ago
Pilgrims knocked her down
When returning from White Mountain.

They overturned the column with four angels in arms
Upon which she stood.
It was not half as tall as
The Vendome column in Paris.

May God forgive them.
The column stood as a sign of the defeat
And shame
Of the Czech nation
And the pilgrims were elated
By their first taste of freedom.

I was there with them
And the head of the broken statue
Rolled upon the cobbles
Near where I stood.
When it stopped,
Its pious eyes stared straight
At my dusty shoes.

But this time
It rolled up to me
For the second time
And between these two moments
Almost an entire human life had stretched,
I can not say it was a happy life
But it nears its end.

Please tell me again
What you asked when I entered.
And forgive me.

(Trans. Robert Hýsek)


Ivan M. Jirous

- - - (Magorova summa 469)

Once in a lily field
two lovers weeded
the weeds amongst the lilies

Towards the couple the white lilies tilted
to lie alone Billy and Milly wanted

The sound of wedding bells from afar lilted
over the forests over the valleys

Billy and Milly crawled
in a mill under a saw

Then they piled up their frocks in the dark
the logs above were throwing off their bark

Sawdust kept coming down in under
as Milly and Billy made love and fondled

Milly and Billy in the kitchen
watched the plum-jam steaming and hissing

The potful of plums bubbled eerily
Milly loved Billy heartily

Under a chimney in the brew-house backyards
Billy embraced his sweetheart's
Milly said
Can you sense how the malt is smelling?
Touch me again
Quietly they drank beer in the alley

Along the waters the autumn creeps
At the sluice the couple weeps
weeps loud over their love drowned in the pond
love that in the fish-traps lilts

In the clouds the first snow chills

- - - (Magorova summa 471)

Night is
sprinkled with holy dew.
Lord demonstrates his power
by dusk, darkness and dawn.
The walls of churches tower indestructibly.
The windbreak of prayer-wheels
flutters freely over the village backyards.
Human sweat reeks.
Smoke rises to Heaven.
And someone's kind hand
strokes a sleeping house.

Rocker's Return

Dedicated to Petr and Dagmar Kadlec
in remembrance of Rockers Round Trip II.

At last home again.
The garden overgrown.
Stinging nettle,
nothing but a bundle of indigo missing
to dye the hempen rope.

The horse thirsty in the stable,
the cat shitting in the lilies.
In the kitchen the Asian maid,
her eyes flashing, sad and mad.
There is spirit in your blood.

You offer your finger to the devil
and he eats out of your hand.
Vocal chords died off in your throat.

What a wise-ass Voskovec was
only now you truly know.
Home is where you hang yourself.

Footnote: Jiri Voskovec: Czech actor and playwright, also starred in Twelve Angry Men.


Translated by Bob Hysek before he was eaten by the fish, see below

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