The Consciousness of Earth
Reviewed by Michael R. Burch
Esther Beatrice Cameron is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in Bellowing Ark, The Antigosh Review, Poetry, Hunger, The Lyric, The Blue Unicorn, American Writing, Troubadour, and many other journals, as well as on the Poetry Porch and Iambs And Trochees websites. Her blank-verse epic on the ecological crisis, The Consciousness of Earth, was published in installments by Bellowing Ark and is forthcoming in book form with Multicultural Books. Bellowing Ark has also published Cameron's The World's Last Rose.
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
5th Mother www.the-5th-mom.org/eng/home.htm
Abraham Vision www.abrahamsvision.org
Action committee for one democratic state www.onerepublic.org
Alliance of Middle East Scientists and Physicians www.keck.ucsf.edu/~yoram/amesp.html
Al Nakba in Hebrew www.NakbaInHebrew.org
Alternative Information Center www.alternativenews.org
Alternative Voice (Galilee co-existance and equality) www.alternative-voice.org
American Council for Judaism www.acjna.org
America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace www.other_israel.tripod.com
Anarchists against the Wall www.awalls.org
Andalus Publishing www.andalus.co.il
Anna Baltzer's Blog www.annainpalestine.blogspot.com
Anna Baltzer's Website www.annainthemiddleeast.com
Association for Civil Rights in Israel www.acri.org.il
Bat Shalom, Israeli Women for Peace www.batshalom.org
Birthright Unplugged www.birthrightunplugged.org
Breaking the Silence (Israeli Soldiers website) www.breakingthesilence.org.il/index_en.asp
British Shalom/Salaam Trust (Peace in Hebrew/Arabic) www.bsst.org.uk
Bustan (Arab Jewish group for sustainable development) www.bustan.org
Bustan L'Shalom www.bustanlshalom.org
Challenge (Israeli magazine) www.hanitzotz.com/challenge
The Coalition of Women For a Just Peace www.geocities.com/EndTheOccupation
Coalition of Women for Peace www.coalitionofwomen4peace.org
Combatants for Peace www.combatantsforpeace.org
Courage to Refuse (Ometz L’Sarev) www.seruv.org.il
Eda Haredit, anti-Zionist Hasidim www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/7891/satmar.html
European Jews for a Just Peace www.ejjp.org
Faculty For Israeli-Palestinian Peace www.ffipp.org
Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement www.gisha.org
The Green Line (Kav Yarok) www.kavyarok.co.il/index_en.php
Gush Shalom www.gush-shalom.org
Hagada Hasmalit www.hagada.org.il
House of Hope www.www.hohpeacecenter.org
Independent Jewish Voice www.ijv.org.uk
The Interfaith Encounter Association www.interfaith-encounter.org
International Jewish anti-Zionist Network www.ijsn.net
Israeli Academics speak out www.academic-access.weebly.com
Israeli artists against the war www.maarav.org.il/draftedart
Israeli citizens for BDS www.boycott-occupation.mahost.org
Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions www.icahd.org
Israeli Committee Against Torture www.stoptorture.org.il
Israel Insider News www.israelimperialnews.org
Israel Legal resource center www.stopisraeliapartheid.org
Israel Religious Action Center (against religious bigotry) www.irac.org
Israel's Back Yard (Checkpoint Testimonies) www.draykcab.wordpress.com
Jewish Academic Network for Israeli-Palestinian Peace www.janip.net
Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation www.opentent.org/jews.html
Jewish and Arab Women for Peace www.tx.technion.ac.il/~ada/home.html
Jewish Friends of Palestine www.jewishfriendspalestine.org
Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group www.igc.org/traubman/global.htm
Jewish-Palestinian Encounter www.salam-shalom.net
Jewish Peace Fellowship www.jewishpeacefellowship.org/index.htm
Jewish People Liberation Organization www.msanews.mynet.net/Scholars/Weizfeld
Jewish Solidarity www.jewishsolidarity.info
Jewish Socialists' Group www.jewishsocialist.org.uk
Jewish Unity for a Just Peace www.junity.org
Jewish Voice for Peace www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org
Jewish Voices Against the Occupation www.jvao.org
Jewish Unity for a Just Peace: www.junity.org
Jewish Voices Against the Occupation: www.jvao.org
Jewish Women Watching www.jewishwomenwatching.com
Jews Against the Occupation www.jewsagainsttheoccupation.org
Jews For Justice www.mediareviewnet.com/JewsForJustice.htm
Jews For Justice for Palestinians www.jfjfp.org
Jews for a Just Peace www.ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/S_Aberle
Jews for a Just Peace (Australia) www.geocities.com/jews4jp
Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI) www.jppi.org
Jews of Belgium for a Fair Settlement www.israel-palestine.be
Jews on first www.jewsonfirst.org
Jews NOT Zionists www.jewsnotzionists.org
Jews Renounce www.jewsrenounce.org
Just Vision www.justvision.org
Kibbush (Occupation Magazine) www.kibush.co.il
Kibbush 40 (Coalition against the occupation) www.kibush40.org/wordpress
Machsum (Checkpoint) Watch www.machsomwatch.org
Matzpum, Jews to Ban Israeli Products and Tourism www.matzpun.com
Middle East Crisis Committee www.thestruggle.com
Muzzle Watch (tracking Zionist efforts to silence critics) www.muzzlewatch.org
Nahalat Shalom www.nahalatshalom.org
Needle in the Grove www.needleinthegroove.org
Negev Coexistence Forum www.ariga.com/dukium
Neturei Karta Homepage www.netureikarta.org
New Israel Fund www.nif.org
New Profile (movement for civilization of Israeli Society) www.newprofile.org
Neve Shalom/Wahat as-Salam www.nswas.com/sfp
Norman Finkelstein's Website www.normanfinkelstein.com
Not in Our Name Coalition www.diak.org/not_in_our_name.htm
Not In My Name! www.nimn.org
Occupied Territory www.occupied.org/The Olga Appeal
Olive Tree Movement www.o-t-m.org/drupal
One Voice Movement www.onevoicemovement.org/wps/portal
(The) Other Israel www.other_Israel.tripod.com
Oz v'Shalom (religious Zionist anti-Occupation) www.ariga.com/ozveshalom
Oznik News Service www.oznik.com
The Parent Circle www.theparentscircle.com
Physicians for Human Rights, Israel www.phr.org.il
Peace, Justice, and Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition www.peacejusticeandjews.com
(The) Public Committee against Torture in Israel www.stoptorture.org.il
Rabbis for Human Rights www.rhr.org.il
Rabbis for Human Rights - Israel www.rhr.israel.net/overview.shtml
Rabbis for Human Rights - North America www.rhr-na.org
Realistic Religious Zionism www.tzionut.org
Re'ut-Sadaka - Jewish-Arab Youth for Peace and Democracy www.israelpages.co.il/reut
Righteous Jews www.righteousjews.org
Schalom 6767 (German Jewish group) www.schalom5767.de
Shministim Refusal Movement www.shministim.org/english/index.html
Search for justice and equality www.searchforjustice.org
Shvil Zahav (The Middle Way) www.middleway.org
Ta'Ayush (Arab Jewish Partnership) www.taayush.org
Toronto's Jewish Youth Against the Occupation www.TJYATO.tripod.com
We Refuse to Be Enemies www.we-refuse.org
Windows—Palestinian-Israeli cooperation www.win-peace.org
Women in Black www.womeninblack.org/history.html
Women`s Organization for Political Prisoners (WOFPP) www.wofpp.org
Visions for peace with justice in Israel/Palestine www.vopj.org
Yesh Din (There is Law) www.yesh-din.org
Zochrot (Israeli group to remind people of Al-Nakba) www.zochrot.org
Conscientious Objection to Military Service in Israel:
Israeli Reservists Refusing to Serve www.seruv.org.il/defaulteng.asp
Yesh Gvul, IDF men refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories www.yesh-gvul.org
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 Consciousness of Earth -- Reviewed by Michael R. Burch
The Consciousness of Earth is a book-length blank verse poem by Esther Cameron. Joseph Salemi has called it a "staggeringly ambitious and powerfully conceived philosophical epic of great scope." Hadassah Haskale has called it "A white whale of a book!" I agree with both Salemi and Haskale, and so I’d like to look at the poem first as a "philosophical epic" and then as a "white whale."
The Consciousness of Earth is not an epic based merely on length: it meets what I perceive as the formalist poet’s formal criteria. It has unity of plot; a sharp-eyed, sharp-witted, often sharp-tongued narrator who speaks in heroic meter; a titular protagonist who, like Ceridwen, takes various shapes, and evolves quite mysteriously; an archenemy who might simply be called "Unthinkingness" (unlike Milton, Cameron refuses to allow her Adversary to appear in any way attractive; she is squarely and forthrightly on the earth’s side, and I laud and applaud her for it); an epic struggle (the struggle for earth itself); and a chorus of voices: of religion, science, history, philosophy, politics, economics, art, literature and poetry.
Cameron’s erudition, research and depth of thought shine through page after page. She is both poet and philosopher, and her scope is indeed great, and far beyond the scope of this review. She begins with the origins of matter and life, leads us ably through the development of the human consciousness, then proceeds to postulate and argue just as ably for a larger, greater consciousness – The Consciousness of Earth. Her words are, in the main, so full of knowledge, intelligence, common sense, pith, wisdom and poetry (such a delightfully rare, dare I say "sexy," sextet!) that her more striking ideas–-or are they merely fancies?–-seem wonderfully plausible. While I don’t find myself agreeing with her conclusion–-as I understand (or misunderstand) it–-that the last best hope of earth lies in men and women group-thinking earth’s way out of the morass-ish mess it finds itself in, led by poets, I sincerely applaud Cameron’s effort and her art.
In the end, The Consciousness of Earth strikes me as a lovely poem, a lovely thought, and probably closer to religion than to philosophy, as it requires a good deal of faith to be embraced in its entirety. Plato anted up the philosopher-king. Cameron trumps him with the poet tribunal. But it seems to me that the least likely people to save the world are philosophers and poets. Both seem quite adept at dirty-laundry-listing the world’s faults, without being able to do much in the way of suggesting, much less implementing, workable workaday solutions. Moreover, none of the many poets I know strike me as saviors of themselves, much less of the world. Cameron might be the exception. Two thousand years ago a wise man who "practiced what he preached" told us we ought to love others as we love ourselves ... whereupon the religious leaders and politicians of his day had him crucified. Can we now save the earth by merely thinking better, in more tightly knit circles, or only and simply by living and loving better? It seems to me that we already know how to save the earth, but we simply refuse to do so. We’d rather kill the messenger that hear the sane, sure truth.
Fortunately, we don’t have to agree with poets to fall in love with their words and visions. And there is indeed much to fall in love with here. Many readers will find themselves mysteriously drawn to Cameron’s "white whale" of a poem. While here and there the poetry bogs down a bit (as it invariably must in a book-length poem) albeit only to the level of very good prose, there are many moments of sheer elevation. I have underlined a large number of lines for "re-harpooning" later. Lines like:
See how the brain-pan’s grown
mind itself a shimmer / in the synapses’ evanescent web
Aurochs, rhinoceros / and mammoth loom with intimated bulk / yet light, cloudlike almost
who shall teach us what the graceful / gestures are
Then let us see, if seeing can be borne
True, deep unease attends upon a dream of peace / enthroned upon judicious use of force
Therefore into the gap between great need / and action’s impotence, defiance crept
There are a goodly number of passages that make me smile for the poetry while simultaneously blinking at the depth of perception and thought, so that I must look as if I’m flirting with the poem. I probably am!
My biggest quibble with the poem is its tendency to switch from primarily modern English to near-painful archaisms like "till the sun grow too faint to nourish life" and "Then stirred in us the power of invention." However, the poet "betwixts" texts knowingly, and at times inversions are used to near-perfect results, as in:
And there where mystery and logos meet
there looms, as if it were the shape that lived
within the heartwood of the human tree,
the Poet ...
And there are many such sublime moments. Let me say in closing that if you read The Consciousness of Earth anywhere near as deeply and as ably as Esther Cameron wrote it, you’ll be hooked into:
one grand white whale
of a poetic tale!