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Monday, September 5, 2022

SPELL FOR BANNING A BOOK--a poem for dark times


By Linda Rodriguez


We are living in dark times. We are living in times when lies are elevated above the truth and fantasies and “alternative facts” are elevated above fact and reality by too many of our leaders and those in power over us.


We are living in times when the former president of the United States tweets out his desire to censor newspapers, television news programs, entire sections of the press, and published books. So far, he has not succeeded in this, even though he daily tweets out his condemnation of “fake news” and his desire to change the libel laws to undercut the First Amendment, but the situation looks grimmer every month and week and day.


We are living in times when the free press is called “the enemy of the people.” We are living in times when organized political hate groups are attacking books, including Anne Frank’s diary, in the press, in our schools, in our libraries, and in the courts. In fact, we are living in times that become more and more reminiscent of the rise of Nazi Germany than we would like to believe or experience. It reminds me forcibly of the book burnings of the Nazi regime. Probably because of the multiple threats to begin burning these banned books they hate so much.


One of the earliest and most important steps a dictatorship must take is to seize control of the narrative. Thus, we see the multitude of lies and the constant accusations of fake news. The next step is censorship, which grants so much control over what the populace can know, and after censorship comes the destruction of books and magazines which contain the truth and not the regime’s propaganda. Along with this, we always find persecution of journalists and writers and poets who are not willing to spout the regime's line. Unfortunately, history gives us all too many examples of this through the ages. In the photograph at the top of this blog, Nazis are burning books in Germany.

This poem is about this process of banning books, which continues to be a threat down through history. Not too long ago, we had books by Latino and Native and Black authors banned in public school districts in the Southwest, which led to a band of activists gathering those forbidden books  and smuggling them across multiple states into those school districts to educate those children. This was called the Librotraficante movement and led to the courts reinstating those books in the school district. We may all be called on again to do something like this to defend the precious written word. Vigilance is the price of freedom.





First, find a censor.

This will be hard—

not that censors are rare,

but they are adept mimics.

Do not be fooled. No matter

how benevolent its disguise,

a frightened censor is dangerous.

Approach with caution.

To safely capture it

for your spell, you must circle

the censor chanting soothing

nonsense syllables.

It is meaning that terrifies



Surround the stupefied censor

with charms made from advertising

photographs of a mythical golden age—

smiling mothers

in high heels and aprons, silent fathers

keeping sentinel on horseback, sexless

children never asking

questions. Sacred to the censor,

such charms have power

to blind it.


Select the book

you want banned.

Set it outside the circle

of charms, and carefully

remove the charm nearest

so the censor can detect

the presence of an attempt

at meaning.


Protect yourself.

Enraged censors have been known

not only to ban books

but to burn them

and then press on to people.


Published in Dark Sister (Mammoth Publications, 2018)


Linda Rodriguez's fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, Every Family Doubt, the follow-up to Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, Revising the Character-Driven Novel, and her co-edited anthology, Unpapered: Writers Consider Native American Identity and Cultural Belonging, will publish in 2023. Her novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and books of poetry— Dark Sister, Heart's Migration, and Skin Hunger—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book, Midwest Voices & Visions, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships.

Rodriguez is past chair of AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus and Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and member of Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community.



Jim Jackson said...

I grew up during McCarthyism and Jim Crow. It is important to note that censors are the minority. They win when their lies are accepted by a silent majority who does not look past the headlines that minority produces to learn the truth.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Last fall, two candidates for the school board were backed by a national PAC. They proposed cutting funds and parental control of the curriculum. After a hard-fought election, we voted them down.

The best story I've read about censoring books: a young person running for local office told a woman who demanded banning books to read the two hundred books on her list and cite, by page and paragraph, all material she found offensive. Never heard from her again.

Shari Randall said...

Most libraries have a process for those who wish to have a book removed from our collections. It generally involves meeting with a librarian to express concerns, and if that meeting doesn't help them understand the library's role in providing materials for everyone in the community, the complainant can fill out a form and meet with administration. We rarely had anyone progress beyond the meeting stage.
I suspect that very few of today's book banners have read the books they wish to ban. My take as a former librarian is, it's a parent's job to monitor their child's reading and social media, not anyone else's, not the town, not the school, not a librarian. Sheesh. Do your own work.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, you are absolutely correct! I, too, remember those days when the Catholic Church banned books for its members, and “banned in Boston” could famously create bestsellers.It's more extreme now with much more vitriol oh, and I certainly don't remember actual threats to burn books back in my childhood in the late 50s and early 60s.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Margaret, that's a great example of the fact that most of these people have not actually read the books that they want to ban. A lot of them aren’t very good readers.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Exactly, Shari. What about the parents who want their children to read a wide variety of inclusive and thought-provoking books to help expand their minds and educate them about the world in which they live?

KM Rockwood said...

Hard to get my mind around the concept that preventing people from accessing ideas will somehow make the world a better place.

Kait said...

Timely, and frightening. Well said, Linda.

Molly MacRae said...

Thanks for this, Linda.

In the 90s, when I ran an independent bookstore in Tennessee, we started many good conversations with customers every year with our banned and challenged book displays. Our public library puts up a great display each year, too. In each case, bookstore and library, the displays have to be constantly restocked. Good!

The reasons for the bans and challenges are eye-opening, mind-boggling, sad, reprehensible - the list of adjectives is limitless. The best adjective, though, is wrong. Banning books is wrong.

Blood boiling, here, keyboard taking unasked for pounding. Thank you for writing about this, Linda.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, yes, it's not exactly the way people like us think about books and reading and education. But there are always people who are threatened by these things and by the opening of minds that books and ideas can create.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thank you, Kait. I actually hate the fact that it's a timely topic once again.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Molly, I'm not surprised that you had to constantly restock those Banned Book displays. Most people in America are really opposed to censorship and the banning of books, let alone the burning of books, but they don't think about the fact that there are always these right-wing extremists out there looking for an excuse to do this until it gets really bad and smacks them in the face. Like most of us, they would rather think that such idiocy does not exist in our current world.