The HyperTexts

A Dynamic Poetic Micro-Environment
A review of Joe M. Ruggier’s CD "From Door-to-Door to CD-ROM" by Esther Cameron

Esther Cameron has asked me to remove her poetry and prose from the pages of The HyperTexts. I have complied with her request, although this brings me no pleasure. On the contrary, I am very unhappy with what I perceive as an act of coercion and censorship aimed at The HyperTexts, and at me personally. Poets invariably want to be free from censorship, and to be able to speak freely. And I agree with them. But if someone else speaks freely, should the ideal of freedom of speech fly out the window, and the poet become the censor? If editors should not censor poets, should poets censor editors? How can any editor do his job reasonably or justly, if one poet demands that someone else's words be changed or removed, or else work of hers that had previously been published must be removed? I invested a good deal of my own time on the publication of Esther Cameron's work. I think it very unfair of her to demand that I remove her work because she disagrees with what someone else said on the pages of The HyperTexts. I do not believe in censoring the poets I publish, nor do I believe that I should be censored by them.

Shouldn't readers be able to read what different writers have to say, and form their own opinions?

In this case, the writer Esther seems intent on censoring is me. She made it clear to me that I had one of two alternatives. I could either remove or change things that I said in my own writing, or I would have to remove her work from The HyperTexts. But when Esther said things I disagreed with, I published her words just as she wrote them and left it to readers to form their own opinions. When Esther did not agree with me, I let her speak freely. But she did not reciprocate. I find this unfair.

What does Esther find objectionable about my own writing? I cannot read her mind. Therefore I can only speak speculatively from my own perspective. But it seems to me that when Esther and I worked together on Holocaust poetry, condemning what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Shoah ("Catastrophe"), I was in her good graces. Together, we said "Never again!" to another Holocaust, and we were allies. I believe we made a good team, and accomplished good things, by speaking truthfully of what obviously did happen to the Jews during the Shoah. However, when I began to say on the pages of THT that we must also say "Never again!" to similar atrocities wherever we see them, including the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of the Palestinian people, for some strange reason this was taboo. But why should Israel not be held to the same standards as other civilized nations? I have found this very strange attitude to be quite prevalent among Jewish poets and intellectuals. Not with all Jewish poets and intellectuals, of course, but with many. Of course they are entitled to their opinions, but I am equally entitled not to agree with them.

Every civilized nation is responsible for establishing equal rights, fair laws and fair courts for all the people under its aegis. All people, without exceptions. If Esther were to study history, she would soon discover that it is the "exceptions" to this rule that result in Holocausts. When white Americans decided their "rights" superseded those of Native Americans, before long innocent women and children were walking one Trail of Tears after another, and dying horrific deaths in horrifically large numbers. That was the first American Holocaust. Then white Americans decided they had the "right" to enslave blacks, and slavery became the second American Holocaust. Then abolitionists and other Americans opposed slavery, but the slaveowners decided their "right" to own slaves trumped even the Union and the Constitution, and this led to the third American Holocaust, the Civil War. Even after the Civil War was over, many southerners were adamant that they deserved "more equal rights" than blacks, and America went through a fourth Holocaust: the period of Jim Crow laws and public lynchings. What white Americans did to non-whites in their theoretical "superiority" was evil beyond belief, and the maniacal illness only began to be cured when American courts finally began to establish a measure of justice in the mid 1900's, thanks in large part to Martin Luther King Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement.

The Holocaust began when Germans decided they had "rights" and the Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, Communists, and other disenfranchised people had none. It is self evident that Jewish women and children who were obviously not criminals could not have been punished collectively as if they were criminals, if the Jews had been protected by fair laws and fair courts.

Now Israel is making the same terrible mistake. The Israeli Jews have appointed themselves superior rights, and denied basic human rights to the Palestinians. The minute innocent women and children are not protected by fair laws and fair courts, ruthless men begin to take advantage of them, while blaming their victims for every ill known to humanity.

Think about it, for a second. White settlers called Native Americans savages, but who was driving whom from the land? White slaveowners called blacks "inferior," but who was treating whom so abysmally? Members of the KKK lynched young black men for looking at white women "the wrong way," but who was clearly in the wrong? German Nazis blamed the Jews for everything that went wrong in the history of the world, but when seventy million people lay dead at the end of World War II, who ended up being tried as war criminals?

Obviously, we can never believe what ruthless men say about their victims. Racists justify their actions by blaming both cause and effect on their victims. And this is just what we see today, in pro-Israel propaganda. Such propaganda almost invariably claims that Israel can excuse doing the inexcusable because, in effect, Palestinians are the devil. But white racists called blacks the devil, and German Nazis called Jews the devil. So why believe what the racist state of Israel says about its victims?

Today Israel suffers the same maniacal illness: rampant racism and injustice. The laws and courts of Israel are matters of public record. Anyone can study them, as I have. The laws and courts of Israel are blatantly racist, and therefore illegal. No one should be expected to obey racist, illegal laws. According to the Declaration of Independence of the United States, human beings have the right and the duty to rise up against unjust governments. Unless the United States is an illegal entity itself, our Declaration of Independence says that the Palestinians have the right and the duty to rise up against and forcefully resist the unjust government of Israel, unless Israel grants them equal rights, including the right to self-determination. Thus, Israel must either make the Palestinians full citizens of the state of Israel, or Israel must give the Palestinians autonomy as full citizens of an independent Palestinian state.

But the government of Israel is obviously intent on stealing what little land and water the Palestinians have left in the West Bank. All the cries about the "security" of Israel are like the cries of southern slaveowners who feared what their slaves might do if they gained their liberty. Israel has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on things that have nothing to do with "security," such as "Jewish only" roads and settlements deep inside Occupied Palestine. If Israel wanted "security," it would build security walls at the edges of its own borders, bring all the Jews inside the walls, and let the Palestinians have their own state outside those walls. But this is not what the government of Israel wants. Instead, it obviously wants to drive the Palestinians from their own land. To do this, Israel wantonly demolishes houses, mindlessly bulldozes olive orchards, and allows Palestinian children to be cursed, kick, spat on and abused on their way to school. Anyone who doesn't believe me has only to read what Jewish humanitarian organizations say about such atrocities. They happen every day to the Palestinians, who are victims of overt, systematic racism that is sponsored and encouraged by the government of Israel.

My beef is with the government of Israel, not Jews as individuals. But democratic governments are, of course, elected by voters. If there is a blatantly racist government in Israel, this means there must be large numbers of voters who are racists. I do not want to stereotype the Jewish people. I have many Jewish friends, although not as many as before I began to speak publicly against the Nakba. But then I really don't care to have friends who believe in abusing children because they belong to the "wrong" race. I don't believe there is such a thing as a "wrong" race. So I am glad to have Jewish friends who oppose racism and intolerance, and while I don't want to be enemies with anyone, I choose not to be friends with racists. The Jewish people will have to make the same decision Americans had to make, not so very long ago. Should little children be spat on and cursed because of their race? To me the answer seems obvious. But to many people in Israel, the answer is not so obvious, because such things continue to happen on a daily basis, and are matters of public record. I have personally met with and communicated with people who have gone to Gaza and the West Bank to act as "human shields." One of these human shields, Anna Baltzer, is a Jewish-American woman who has written an excellent book, Witness In Palestine, on the realities she encountered while protecting Palestinian children and farm families with her own body. The links below will allow readers to investigate the truth. Then they can decide for themselves whether they think I should be censored. The sites below are those of Jewish individuals and organizations, so there is no danger of being misled by anti-Semites. The existence of so many organizations mobilized against racism and injustice with the ranks of the Jews themselves says a lot, to anyone with ears to hear and a brain to think. The situation in Israel today seems to be quite like the situation before white abolitionists helped bring about the American Civil War because they refused to accept the abomination of slavery. And we all know who was right, and who was wrong. Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts

My personal recommendations:

Anna Baltzer's Blog (Anna is a Jewish-American "human shield." Why?)
Anna Baltzer's Website (Be sure to read her book Witness in Palestine.)
Breaking the Silence (Read what Jewish soldiers say about their actions.)
Jews for Justice for Palestinians (Read what Jews of good conscience say.)
Rabbis for Human Rights (Read what Jewish Rabbis say.)
Rabbis for Human Rights - North America (Read what American Rabbis say.)
Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (Why are homes being destroyed, really?)
Jews Against the Occupation (Why is there an occupation, really?)
B'Tselem (Get the unvarnished truth about the occupation.)
Jewish Voice for Peace ("Two people, one future.")
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Israel's oldest and largest human rights group.)
Gush Shalom ("Putting an end to the occupation.")
British Shalom-Salaam Trust ("Crossing Borders for Peace.")
Israel's Back Yard (Testimonies from Israel Checkpoints.)
Jewish Socialists' Group ("Campaigning for the rights of all oppressed minorities.")

A more comprehensive alphabetic list:

5th Mother
Abraham Vision
Action committee for one democratic state
Alliance of Middle East Scientists and Physicians
Al Nakba in Hebrew
Alternative Information Center
Alternative Voice (Galilee co-existance and equality)
American Council for Judaism
America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Anarchists against the Wall
Andalus Publishing
Anna Baltzer's Blog
Anna Baltzer's Website
Association for Civil Rights in Israel
Bat Shalom, Israeli Women for Peace
Birthright Unplugged
Breaking the Silence (Israeli Soldiers website)
British Shalom/Salaam Trust (Peace in Hebrew/Arabic)
Bustan (Arab Jewish group for sustainable development)
Bustan L'Shalom
Challenge (Israeli magazine)
The Coalition of Women For a Just Peace
Coalition of Women for Peace
Combatants for Peace
Courage to Refuse (Ometz L’Sarev)
Eda Haredit, anti-Zionist Hasidim
European Jews for a Just Peace
Faculty For Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
The Green Line (Kav Yarok)
Gush Shalom
Hagada Hasmalit
House of Hope
Independent Jewish Voice
The Interfaith Encounter Association
International Jewish anti-Zionist Network
Israeli Academics speak out
Israeli artists against the war
Israeli citizens for BDS
Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions
Israeli Committee Against Torture
Israel Insider News
Israel Legal resource center
Israel Religious Action Center (against religious bigotry)
Israel's Back Yard (Checkpoint Testimonies)
Jewish Academic Network for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation
Jewish and Arab Women for Peace
Jewish Friends of Palestine
Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group
Jewish-Palestinian Encounter
Jewish Peace Fellowship
Jewish People Liberation Organization
Jewish Solidarity
Jewish Socialists' Group
Jewish Unity for a Just Peace
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jewish Voices Against the Occupation
Jewish Unity for a Just Peace:
Jewish Voices Against the Occupation:
Jewish Women Watching
Jews Against the Occupation
Jews For Justice
Jews For Justice for Palestinians
Jews for a Just Peace
Jews for a Just Peace (Australia)
Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI)
Jews of Belgium for a Fair Settlement
Jews on first
Jews NOT Zionists
Jews Renounce
Just Vision
Kibbush (Occupation Magazine)
Kibbush 40 (Coalition against the occupation)
Machsum (Checkpoint) Watch
Matzpum, Jews to Ban Israeli Products and Tourism
Middle East Crisis Committee
Muzzle Watch (tracking Zionist efforts to silence critics)
Nahalat Shalom
Needle in the Grove
Negev Coexistence Forum
Neturei Karta Homepage
New Israel Fund
New Profile (movement for civilization of Israeli Society)
Neve Shalom/Wahat as-Salam
Norman Finkelstein's Website
Not in Our Name Coalition
Not In My Name!
Occupied Territory Olga Appeal
Olive Tree Movement
One Voice Movement
(The) Other Israel
Oz v'Shalom (religious Zionist anti-Occupation)
Oznik News Service
The Parent Circle
Physicians for Human Rights, Israel
Peace, Justice, and Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition
(The) Public Committee against Torture in Israel
Rabbis for Human Rights
Rabbis for Human Rights - Israel
Rabbis for Human Rights - North America
Realistic Religious Zionism
Re'ut-Sadaka - Jewish-Arab Youth for Peace and Democracy
Righteous Jews
Schalom 6767 (German Jewish group)
Shministim Refusal Movement
Search for justice and equality
Shvil Zahav (The Middle Way)
Ta'Ayush (Arab Jewish Partnership)
Toronto's Jewish Youth Against the Occupation
We Refuse to Be Enemies
Windows—Palestinian-Israeli cooperation
Women in Black
Women`s Organization for Political Prisoners (WOFPP)
Visions for peace with justice in Israel/Palestine
Yesh Din (There is Law)
Zochrot (Israeli group to remind people of Al-Nakba)

Conscientious Objection to Military Service in Israel:
Israeli Reservists Refusing to Serve
Yesh Gvul, IDF men refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20-21)

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)

Justice, Justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. (Deuteronomy XVI, 18:20) The footnote in the Hertz edition reads: “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.”

Learn to do well – seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow ... Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.(Isaiah 1:17,27)

If all afflictions in the world were assembled on one side of the scale and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all. (Exodus Rabbah, Mishpatim 31:14)

Our Nakba Index

These are just a few of the many, many organizations united to establish peace through justice in Israel/Palestine. Why does Esther Cameron want to censor me, when I am merely stating the obvious, and agreeing with Jews of good conscience who believe the Palestinians should be treated as human beings, with the same human rights as Israeli Jews?

The HyperTexts

A Dynamic Poetic Micro-Environment

A review of Joe M. Ruggier’s CD "From Door-to-Door to CD-ROM" by Esther Cameron

One of the speculations of recent evolutionary theory is that significant innovations often take place amid small populations, in marginal environments. Joe M. Ruggier’s CD From Door- to-Door to CD-ROM admits us to a dynamic poetic micro-environment. As a minor collaborator, I cannot quite “impartially” review this production; still I would like to give an idea of the riches to be found in this interim summation of Ruggier’s unique, rambunctious, often beautiful oeuvre as poet, critic, translator, editor and publisher.

First, some background. Ruggier was born in 1956 on the island of Malta – “In the Suburbs of Europe,” as he titles his survey of Maltese culture, included on the disc. Located between Sicily and the northern coast of Africa, Malta was for many centuries, as Ruggier puts it, a “traffic center.” Its native tongue is Arabic in structure, with a large number of borrowings from Italian vocabulary. In 1813, however, it became part of the British empire, and from then on English as well as Maltese was taught in the schools. At the same time, in accordance with the nationalist trend of the nineteenth century, a Maltese literature developed. Ruggier gives us a sampling of translated voices (including a whole collection by George Borg) which evoke the landscape of Malta as well as its literary atmosphere. Before immigrating to Canada in 1981, Ruggier taught English language and poetry. This teaching activity is reflected in a textbook, Poetry by Theme, which is both a primer of criticism and an anthology. Auden, I think it was, said that every poet should compile his own anthology, and Ruggier has done so. Poetry by Theme may serve as a guide to the standards Ruggier has set for himself and for those whose work he has published.

These standards are “conservative” standards, as those of “outsider” groups often tend to be. Jonathan Rosen, in The Intellectual History of the British Working Classes, makes the point that the tastes of workers seeking to educate themselves were always a generation or two “behind the times.” This is not necessarily a disadvantage. The belief that change means progress is nowhere more questionable than in literature; we still read Tennyson and Longfellow with pleasure, even while telling ourselves that we can’t write that way any more.

Thus, the poetry of “outsiders” – and not only Ruggier but his associates, Higson, Hudson, Harrison, and Laycock, of whom more below, are outsiders – may preserve values of which mainstream culture has temporarily lost sight. In the case of Ruggier and his cohorts, one might call these values: sincerity, musicality, religious orientation, a direct and trustful approach to the reader.

Another effect of Ruggier’s background is that his verse has, undeniably, a slight foreign accent. But although some believe that true poetry can be written only in one’s native language, I would differ with this opinion. A foreign accent can, like a quirkily original poetic gift, lift us out of the routine of the language; sometimes, indeed, the unique qualities of a language are perceived by an outsider with peculiar clarity. I can’t help recalling that Paul Celan, who for reasons of his own espoused the “native language only" theory, in fact grew up in a multilingual milieu, so that his true native language was Polyglot; and his German is precisely the speech of an outsider who can take nothing about the language for granted. At any rate, Ruggier’s linguistic sensitivity is beyond doubt; with justified pride, I think, he includes the following lines of his own among his textbook examples of how to establish a mood by the use of sound:

Across the bald and bowed and lengthening gaze of the moon
Drifts a long miasma, now broadening, now blotting out,
Now drawing a veil.

However, Ruggier does not confine himself to classical styles and modes of writing. Along with blank verse, sonnets, and other stanza forms, a good deal of free verse is included in his six collections of poems (The Voice of the Millions, This Eternal Hubbub, regrets hopes regards and prayers, Lady Vancouver, A Richer Blessing, Songs of Gentlest Reflection), reproduced in their entirety here. Like the title of his magazine, The Eclectic Muse, Ruggier’s poetic oeuvre refuses to declare one poetic mode valid to the exclusion of others. The poems are, moreover, not workshop productions cobbled to conform to current editorial preferences; they are documents of the struggle of a soul between faith and doubt, between form and chaos, with the inevitable repercussions in social and domestic life. Financial struggles, marital shipwreck, mental illness, contention with the literary elite on the one hand and the philistine faithful of the Church on the other: in the furnace of those trials, Ruggier can bellow with the best of them. Mingled with the poetry is prose, now semi-coherent, now rising to inspired heights, and often provocative: “Salvation is in the Good Life, not in Art; but the Good Life is not to be found in this world, but in Art. To go to Heaven one must, in a sense, become an Artist because, to go there, one must express his Love by showing, not by saying, and that is how the great artists expressed their own, by showing, not by telling.” As you can hear, it is often an old-fashioned prose, fashioned in a nineteenth-century school but often torn up by the stresses of the present.

As noted, Ruggier suffers from “mental illness.” I’m no expert on mental illness, and don’t know what kind the experts say he has. In the makeup of many poets, mental stability, like abstemiousness, seems to have been sacrificed to that openness to the world which is the prerequisite of any genuine poetry. But I think of the time he spoke with me, over the phone, about hearing “the terrible nuclear boom of the twentieth century.” Those of us who aren’t crazy from it probably should be.

One of the saving graces in Ruggier’s world is friendship, and this CD would be worth purchasing if only as a stunning document of literary friendship. Over the years, Ruggier’s correspondents have included: the late Rex Hudson, a critical study of whose poetry is included here; Roy Harrison, whose correspondence with Ruggier is reproduced, along with a collection of Harrison’s poems and a novel by him; Philip Higson, represented here by an ample “selected poems”; John Laycock, whose "selected poems" are likewise included; and of late yours truly, with whom he has been exchanging blank verse letters since 1999. Besides the initial, Hudson, Harrison and Higson have certain things in common. They are classicists, more consistently so than Ruggier; they combine spiritual sincerity with chiseled perfection of form (though Higson too has his excursions into free verse). It is a religious poetry that has been unjustly overlooked amid the studied irreligion of the present literary world. Ruggier’s merit in securing this poetry a modicum of attention is considerable.

It is in a spirit of literary friendship, too, that Ruggier has edited (and is still editing) his magazine, The Eclectic Muse, the “Best of” which is reproduced here in 270-page anthology. The spirit of the magazine is well represented by two lines from Michael Axtell’s poem, “Epistle to a Fellow-Laborer”:

Though far apart and never face to face
The heart beholds the heart within the sign[.]

The styles represented here are indeed eclectic. But they are marked, by and large, by the instinctive or deliberate refusal to deny the heart, to assume the modern irony which claims intellectual superiority but is really a form of self-protection in a world where self-interest too often seems to be the sole generally-acknowledged principle. This is a poetry which could conceivably aid in the rebuilding of trust and community. I am not saying every poem in this anthology, or for that matter in Ruggier’s own work, is “good”; I am occasionally “embarrassed”; but I never come from it with the abysmal shame I feel on closing so many magazine issues where everything is colloquial, ironical, godless, studiedly “original,” and untrue.

Among the offerings in the Eclectic Muse anthology is my own verse playlet, “The Editor,” one of the works of which I am proudest. In the form of a morality play, it looks into the selection process whereby passionate and well-written work is oftentimes rejected in terms of what is slick and self-protective. Whenever we undertake to judge one another’s work, we are subjected to formidable and often unacknowledged temptations. There is envy, which often makes us see as bad what is best; there is fear, which makes us not want to identify with the vulnerability which, as hinted earlier, is an indispensable concomitant of that openness which makes genuine poetry possible; and there is that passion for controlling one another, the source of so much misery on this earth, which so often mars our delight in the joyful play of another intelligence. Ruggier’s willingness to publish this expose in the form of a verse play testifies to his magnanimity, that quality which is probably inseparable from some form of religious faith, and which is in such short supply in the literary world today.

Magnanimity is closely allied to humility. And over the years, Ruggier has promoted his own and others’ poetry in the humblest possible manner: by going door to door. Since 1985 he has, he tells us, sold over 20,000 poetry publications in this manner. In this way he has gained readers for himself and his colleagues, dramatized the current situation of poetry, and supplemented his wretchedly meager income.

Speaking of which, Ruggier has set a price on the CD which, after all that has been said here, I hope you will agree with me in finding mockingly low. The price is $350 Canadian to libraries, $150 to individuals. In US dollars this works out to $270 and $114.95, respectively. Not much to pay for someone’s life-work; consider the price of a single painting by the graduate of any art school. I understand that it is possible to bargain with Ruggier over this price, and would encourage you to do so if necessary, only saying: don’t bargain too hard. This is an enterprise that deserves your support.

Joe Ruggier’s CD "From Door-to-Door to CD-ROM" can be ordered by calling Joe Ruggier at 604-277-3864 or by e-mailing him at