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From the monthly archives:

January 2010

On Ezra Pound

by Danny Fisher on January 26, 2010

Ezra Pound, the greatest poet of the 20th century – and one of my favorite – was a fascist and anti-Semite. As a child of Holocaust survivors, it has always been difficult for me to appreciate Pound’s great artistry without highly charged and mixed emotions. But I still consider his writing among the highest art. Consider some excerpts from his monumental epic poem, The Cantos.

ezra pound

Canto I recounts Homer’s Odyssey in Pound’s stunning first person verse, where images, deep emotions, and the rhythm and sound of the poet’s words powerfully converge.

“And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers
‘forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour.
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death’s-head;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and at the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.”

Now Pound/Odysseus meets the soul of a man who was left behind, unburied, and he continues sorrowfully:

“But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit.And I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
Cam’st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?”
And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe’s ingle.
Going down the long ladder unguarded,
I fell against the buttress,
Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.”

“Ill fate” – we are all victims of events beyond our control. “Abundant wine” – well, there are things that are in our control. Hear now what Elpenor states – a plea for being remembered:

“But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-board, and inscribed:
A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.”

“A name to come” – perhaps that is what Pound the artist seeks or envisions.

“And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
“A second time? why? man of ill star,
Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
For soothsay.”
And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: “Odysseus
Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
Lose all companions.”

“Lose all companions” – Pound the artist is alone. Ezra Pound the man was captured at the end of World War II and spent time living alone in a cage that was his prison. He was eventually found not guilty of treason by reason of insanity. I recall that Pound remarked to a poet friend who visited him in the American insane asylum that was his residence in the fifties: “Bird in cage does not sing.”

Turning far ahead to Canto LXXXI is this memorable and powerfully passionate verse:

“What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance.
“Master thyself, then others shall thee bear”
Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst’ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
I say pull down.

But to have done instead of not doing
This is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
this is not vanity.
Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered . . .”

The final verse, Canto 120, was published posthumously. I think of this verse often. Perhaps Pound here admits the errors of his life. Perhaps it is about how all people err. This is the entire Canto 120:

“I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move
let the wind speak
that is paradise

Let the Gods forgive what I
have made
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made.”

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It’s the People, Stupid

by Danny Fisher on January 22, 2010

It was refreshing for me to see Cindy McCain today posing with duct tape over her mouth on the home page of the website NoH8 Campaign endorsing equal marriage rights for gays.

cindy mccain

This follows the appearance on the same site of marriage equality advocate Meghan McCain.

meghan mccain

The banner on the website says “Redefining Republican.” But it is not a matter of redefining a political party or other labels like “liberal” or “conservative.” Just as our society strives to become post-racial – we have elected an African American as president, something unthinkable only a very short time ago – we should get beyond the labels of political persuasions. It’s really all about people – individuals who have their own opinions, concerns and realities.

I expressed some thoughts in my last blog about the meaning of the election in Massachusetts. I received hundreds of responses – from those who identified themselves as liberals, conservatives, members of the Tea Party Movement and independents. Some people saw my comments as fitting a particular label or political persuasion of their own identification and it made me think that perhaps there is something that is not constructive in an identification to a group. Because then you are forced to agree with all the opinions of that group. And then that group itself tries to change the laws of the land more for the sake of the survival of the group than survival of the land. In the recent health care debate, the group called the Democrats even found nothing wrong with purchasing the votes of individuals in the group (see: Louisiana and Nebraska) because those individuals just really did not agree with the program. This is not confined to the Democratic Party – we see this happening all the time with the Republican Party and other groups with identifying labels.

In the end, it’s about individuals – it’s the people.


Confucius on the Massachusetts Election

by Danny Fisher on January 20, 2010

Yuan Jang sat by the roadside pretending to
be receiving wisdom.
And Kung said
“You old fool, come out of it,
“Get up and do something useful.”
And Kung said
“Respect a child’s faculties
“From the moment it inhales the clear air,
“But a man of fifty who knows nothing
Is worthy of no respect.”

Scott Brown’s stunning upset victory in Massachusetts has redefined the American political landscape. I recall the words of Confucius as interpreted by Ezra Pound in Canto XIII:

“Anyone can run to excesses,
“It is easy to shoot past the mark,
“It is hard to stand firm in the middle.”

brown flags

Scott Brown was down 30 points a few weeks ago and won Ted Kennedy’s seat by 5. How and why did this happen? What does it mean?

Some things are obvious: it would have helped the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, if she knew the names of her constituency’s great baseball stars, if she understood that shaking hands in the cold outside of Fenway Park was actually a smart thing for a candidate – not something to be derided – and, in general, if she ran a campaign that was at least a half-step above disastrous. It helped Scott Brown that he not only knew the names of the sports stars but had them by his side, that he was good looking and drove a pickup truck, that he ran a serious, persistent and intelligent campaign and that he provided an excellent debate retort to moderator David Gergen questioning how he could vote “no” on health care while sitting in Ted Kennedy’s seat. “It’s the people’s seat” is not just a truism; it resonated within deep blue Massachusetts and became the “Scott heard ’round the world.”

Americans are frustrated and in great despair. We do not like being taken for granted. There has been an increasing disconnect between the governors and the governed. Real unemployment – taking into account the underemployed and those who have given up looking for work – is 17.5%. That means nearly one in five Americans are out of work. Iran is building nuclear weapons with impunity. An Islamist extremist commits a massacre at Fort Hood and the recent official government report of the incident fails to mention that the murderer is an Islamist extremist. Another Jihadist terrorist attempts to blow up an airline full of people and is granted the right to remain silent. Massive and costly environmental legislation that is supposed to save us all from immediate extinction takes no account nor debate of the inconveniently leaked emails from scientists discussing ways to manipulate climate data to fit their prior models.

What was supposed to be an era of post-partisanship in government has been one of the most partisan eras in history – it is an embarrassment and a shame and we are all fed up with politicians of all stripes gone wild. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Free World flies to Oslo to prematurely accept the Nobel Peace Prize, flies to Copenhagen to make a sales pitch for the 2016 Chicago Olympics – why did we not send Don Draper? – then returns to Copenhagen to participate in a global climate conference debacle that has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with the transfer of wealth to nations run by brutal and ruthless dictators.

On Capitol Hill, after the stimulus failed to stimulate and the bailouts failed to bail out working people and the middle class, legislators have been trying to force feed the American people with health care legislation that they do not want, cannot afford, and which is a nonsensical hodgepodge of deals and bribes made behind closed doors that tackle everything about health care except the only thing I can think of that could actually improve health care and reduce costs: tort reform. Our legislators gone wild have taken to making a deal for the sole purpose of making a deal and achieving a political victory – with no calculation whatsoever on its impact on society, its atrocious timing during the midst of the Second Great Depression and the greatest deficits in our history.

And Kung said, and wrote on the bo leaves:
If a man have not order within him
He can not spread order about him;
And if a man have not order within him
His family will not act with due order;
And if the prince have not order within him
He can not put order in his dominions.
And Kung gave the words “order”
and “brotherly deference”
And said nothing of the “life after death.”

I am a lifelong registered Democrat who is pro-choice, pro gay marriage, pro stem cell research, and am generally liberal on most issues. And these days I have to go to the right wing Drudge Report, and – yikes – even to Fox News – to find some basic news that you often cannot find in the mainstream media. Little things of possible interest and relevance like the Islamist links of the Fort Hood murderer and the attempted airline bomber, the leaked emails of “Climate Gate,” massively growing tea party rallies and town hall meetings in which our enraged fellow citizens are trying to say: “listen to me!”

What we are seeing in our government is arrogance, pure and simple. It is not about left versus right, liberal versus conservative. Republican Scott Brown cleverly summoned Democratic (and Massachusetts) icon JFK in a TV commercial about the importance of tax cuts to stimulate the economy (while hapless Martha’s TV commercial could not even correctly spell the name of her state). We hear meaningless slogans from both left and right, from “drill baby drill” to “soak the rich.”

We do need intelligent and reasonable energy and environmental policies that are sensible for the times and context we live in – and not driven by hysteria and fanaticism. We need fiscal programs that help working people and the middle class, and while “soaking the rich” sounds populist, we will not create jobs unless the economy is truly stimulated – and that requires providing incentives to those in our society who create jobs – “soaking” those who create jobs hurts us all.

We have found villains that are too convenient, foremost among them Sarah Palin. The only rational writing in the media that I have read about Palin comes from liberal Camille Paglia, who has recognized that Palin’s life, words and deeds have been distorted beyond belief through blatant sexism and absurd double standards. It has gotten to the point for me, a liberal Democrat, to find it hard to even read Republican David Brooks’ op eds in The New York Times because, well – even he has become too “coastal elite” for me.

It therefore came as no great surprise to me that the most liberal state in the Union has collectively sent a message to our leaders: “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” and elected Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy’s senate seat.

And Kung said, “Without character you will
“be unable to play on that instrument
“Or to execute the music fit for the Odes.
“The blossoms of the apricot
“blow from the east to the west,
“And I have tried to keep them from falling.”

-From Ezra Pound, Canto XIII

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Thinking About Haiti

by Danny Fisher on January 14, 2010

The devastation in Haiti is a sledgehammer of a reminder to us all that our problems are nothing.


I had a very successful day and made continuing progress in my efforts to rebuild my business. But as I look at the images and reports coming out of Haiti, I realize that what I am rebuilding is nothing. My parents truly rebuilt their lives after their lives and families were devastated in the Holocaust. My mother was a beautiful girl – just 16 years old – when she was rounded up and put on a cattle car bound for Auschwitz. Her sister was even younger, just 13. When her train arrived at Auschwitz, she was quickly separated from her mother and most of her brothers and sisters – they were never again to be seen and soon disappeared into the black smoke that rose from the tall smokestacks at Auschwitz. My mother and her sister were forced to strip naked, their hair was cut and their heads were shaven and my mother watched with tears as her sister’s beautiful locks of curly hair fell to the ground. Doctor Mengele, Auschwitz’s notorious “Angel of Death” examined my mother each day as she stood in line and Mengele made his “selections” – who was to live and who was to die.

My mother had a boyfriend who was put to work in the crematorium and knew the fate that soon awaited him. He saw my mother and admonished her to do anything she could to get out of Auschwitz – anything. He forced her to say the following words out loud: “I will do anything to get out of Auschwitz.” Soon after his warning, the German SS were rounding up the most beautiful girls to be taken somewhere – my mother did not know where but suspected the worst. She remembered what her boyfriend had made her swear – he had already disappeared – and she raised her hand and called out to the SS soldiers and asked to be taken. A fellow inmate was horrified and said to her: “Are you crazy? Do you know where they are taking you? For the pleasure of the Nazis!” But my mother decided to keep her promise to her boyfriend. Her instincts were to survive. She survived.

After her liberation, she learned that her 13 year old sister had survived, too. They embraced in tears and in joy and the first words her sister exclaimed were: “I’m a virgin!” My mother answered, “I am, too” And they hugged and cried on the street corner for a long time. My mother told me this story, among many others. I will never know what she had to do to survive, and it is possible that whatever she had to do, along with so many things she experienced, were just too shocking for even her to recall. But she did have recurring nightmares throughout her life.

The worst nightmares she had, however, were in Auschwitz. Sleeping on cold planks in barracks with hundreds of other starving inmates, she would awaken from her nightmares only to find herself in a reality that was even worse than her nightmares.

My mother passed away nearly three years ago, from Alzheimer’s. As she deteriorated, she began to mistake me for one of her younger brothers who did not survive the death camp and she called me by his name whenever she saw me. I took her aside once and explained to her that I was her son, not her brother, and that her brother was murdered by the Nazis. She laughed and claimed that I was speaking nonsense and said, “why would anyone want to murder my young brother – he was so sweet and innocent and just 12 years old and besides I just saw him riding his tricycle and you are speaking complete nonsense that anyone would want to murder innocent people like my little darling brother for no reason.”

I did not cry when my mother lay in a coma in her final hours. I did not cry at her funeral. I cried when she sent me a birthday card soon after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, when she was still able to communicate. She wrote: “God has blessed me with such a wonderful life.”

The photograph on the upper right of this blog is of my parents, taken in 1947 at a Cyprus detention camp, where my parents were refugees and waiting and hoping for a chance at a new life, in Palestine, soon to become Israel. There is joy in their eyes, the joy of liberation, the joy of a new beginning – the joy of life.

“We were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. If the Holy One, blessed be He, had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we, our children and our children’s children would have remained enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, we would still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt.” – From the Haggadah of Passover.

You can make a donation to help Haiti relief efforts at

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Within You Without You

by Danny Fisher on January 13, 2010

I am grateful and appreciative of the responses I have received on my new blog. So now I am a bit self-conscious writing, as I know that some people are actually going to read what I write, and some of those people may be ones who have already told me how much they’ve liked what I’ve previously posted – so I am anxious to not disappoint.

“We were talking – about the space between us all
And the people – who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion…”

I may have connected with people because I have come out of the closet of pretense that all is well – others have gotten in touch with me and said that they have had a tough time this past year too, and I think people take comfort that they are not alone. I certainly do.

I am feeling good and remain confident about the future. I am more and more feeling a sense of ease communicating with people. So far, the toughest part of my life is the nighttime, as I still have anxiety dreams in which I relive some of the torment I experienced in 2009. I am so glad it is 2010. I can now compartmentalize last year into a number – 2009 – and I can declare last year officially over. But I can only do that in the day time. I have not learned how to do that while sleeping and dreaming, when for some inexplicable reason my mind wants to relive and experience again and again what I am working so hard to get behind me.

Some people last year said some hurtful things to me, and some people did some hurtful things to me. By day, I forgive them and I am so happy to move forward with my life. By night, those people say the same things to me and do the same things to me over and over again, and I wake up in a cold sweat and say to myself, “Did this really happen? Did these people really behave this way?” And then I start the day and those thoughts go away and I am focused on my day’s work. I find that I like everyone I speak to, whether by email, phone, or in person. I have lived my entire life as a rather shy person, not terribly social, and not very comfortable with people. Now I find myself more comfortable with people than I ever have been. And perhaps my nights of bad dreams are helping me to be comfortable with people. Because at night, there are bad people in my dreams, people who hurt my feelings, who astonish me with their behavior – real people, or composites of real people, people from that other time period – that period we call 2009 – and when I am awake and speaking with other people, they are so friendly, not at all hurtful. In the day I am liked. I like being liked, and I have lived my entire life being liked by just about everyone, with the exception of 2009.

“We were talking – about the love that’s gone so cold and the people,
Who gain the world and lose their soul -
They don’t know – they can’t see – are you one of them?”

Now to make matters more complicated, I also speak each day with some of the bad people from my dreams – and during the day even they are nice. They have changed, they have mellowed, they say nice things to me and it seems that they now like me. People who have issued severe threats to me in 2009 call me up these days to see how I am doing and wish me the very best and ask when we can get together and have lunch. I have even been discussing new ventures with some of them.  I tell you its bizarre.  One thing I have always believed in is not burning bridges.  Now, I have actually received a number of death threats in 2009.  And even with those people I am prepared to resume a professional relationship and friendship.  But I will not meet them in a back alley – just in case.

“Try to realize it’s all within yourself
No one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small,
And life flows within you and without you…”

I looked at the stock charts today and examined the Dow Jones Average for the past 12 months and I wondered – could people’s moods be fluctuating – literally – with the Dow Jones Average?  Can that possibly explain why some of the people who tormented me in 2009 are good to me today?

dow jones

When I examine the chart, it seems to correspond with the year I had last year.  January through March was a precipice for me, just like the chart.  March through June was getting myself off the mat.  In mid-July, a Wall Street tycoon, J. Morton Davis, invited me to work out of his offices at the company he owned, DH Blair, as an act of kindness and generosity, and it became a wonderful refuge for me, feeling supported and nurtured, and I met lots of terrific people there.  It was the beginning of rebuilding for me and it was so helpful to be in an environment that was so different than where I had been.  As you can see, the chart climbs up sharply from mid-July through today.  My own mood, my prospects for rebuilding and the way people treat me have coincided with the Dow Jones Average. Coincidence?

“When you’ve seen beyond yourself – then you may find, peace of mind,
Is waiting there -
And the time will come when you see
we’re all one, and life flows on within you and without you.”

- George Harrison

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My Chat with Cecila Peck

by Danny Fisher on January 6, 2010

Tonight I chatted on Facebook with the beautiful Cecilia Peck, who starred in the first movie I produced, “Torn Apart,” a Middle Eastern Romeo and Juliet story about a Palestinian girl (Cecilia Peck) in love with an Israeli soldier (“Heroes” star Adrian Pasdar). Cecilia has gone on to direct and produce a number of acclaimed documentaries, including “Shut Up & Sing.” She is currently directing and producing another important film – the Linor Documentary Project. Linor was raped six weeks before being crowned Miss World, and she is reaching out to the world to help rape victims, and Cecilia is documenting.

Cecilia Peck


Linor Abargil – Miss World

Linor picture

My chat with Cecilia was for me like a mini-version of one of my favorite films, My Dinner With Andre, as in the course of an hour we covered so many things, so many topics, bringing back so many deep memories. I grew very close to Cecilia and also her wonderful parents Vernonique and Greg during the making of “Torn Apart.” We spent time together in Israel, NY, LA and Cannes. My brother Jack directed Torn Apart, and Cecilia, Adrian, Jack and I remain immensely proud of the film, which I always felt was way ahead of its time during its release in 1990. Reviews were mixed when it was released, which baffled me more than it disappointed me. When the film was released on DVD last year, it received four star reviews and it made me think, “yeah, that makes a lot more sense.” Like the times caught up with the film (and like my previous post below about another film, “We Can’t Go Home Again,” that is now being restored and revived).

“Torn Apart” trailer

You only meet a few class acts in your life, and Cecilia and her family are class acts. I treasure the moments we spent together throughout the production and release of our film. We made the movie not for glory and not for commercial gain and not for career advancement but because we all believed we were communicating something important and meaningful – a metaphor for what could be. I conceived of the movie, which was based on the Chayym Zeldis novel “A Forbidden Love,” as exactly that – a metaphor, a parable, a poem, a ballad – about a world that could be, if only… When the movie was released, I was astonished that most critics saw the movie as an attempt at a realistic portrayal of events – and I never felt anyone ever really got my intent – a love ballad, meant to be seen symbolically – as metaphor.

I am flattered and happy that Cecilia told me tonight that “Torn Apart” inspired her to continue to do work that counts. She is really awesome in the movie, by the way, as is Adrian Pasdar. Cecilia’s new film about Linor has taken her to Israel, where some of the film is being produced, and being back in Israel brought back to Cecilia a lot of intense memories of being there years ago for the “Torn Apart” filming. Israel is an amazing place – the most wondrous place I have ever been to. I was born there, and came to the U.S. at the age of four. My parents survived the Holocaust – my mother was in Auschwitz – and they moved from the ghettos of Eastern Europe, through the concentration camps, which they miraculously survived – although most of their siblings and other family did not – through the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 – to several blocks from Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx.

There was a blizzard in the Bronx that winter. I did not know what snow was, and I exclaimed to my mother: “White sand is falling from the sky!”

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