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Robert Bohm

 

Robert Bohm was born in Queens, New York in 1943.

His most recent book of poems is Closing the Hotel Kitchen, published by West End Press in 2011.  A previous book, Uz Um War Moan Ode, was published by Pudding House Publications in 2007.  

Other credits include Notes on India (nonfiction, South End Press), In the Americas (poetry, Panache Press) and Kali Yuga (poetry, Lynx House Press) as well as work published in a wide variety of print and online publications.  Since 2000 Bohm has received 3 Pushcart nominations, 2 for poetry and one for criticism.  His poetry sequence "While I Wrote My Dispatch" won the 2003 IBPC (InterBoard Poetry Competition) for best poetic work of the year and his In the Americas won the 1980 Great Lakes Colleges Association Award for best book of poems by a new U.S. writer.

Prior to being drafted into the U.S. army in 1967 during the Vietnam war, Bohm attended Concordia Collegiate Institute, a Lutheran Junior College in NY, then enrolled at Gettysburg College in PA.  While studying at Gettysburg, he simultaneously kept a room on Manhattan's Lower East Side and worked in the city part-time as a clean-up man for three midtown bars in the vicinity of 34th St. and 8th Ave.  This situation led to Bohm's failure to graduate when he was scheduled to in spring 1965, although he later did receive his degree, but not before receiving a fellowship to, then attending, the John Hopkins Creative Writing Program in Baltimore in spite of not having a B. A.  Bohm, however, dropped out of the program after only a month.  Subsequently, after a two-year period of working odd jobs in Baltimore and then NY, he was drafted into the army, serving in 1967-68.  

Following his two-year tour of duty, Bohm, who was married while in the service, returned to college on the G.I. Bill, joining the English Dept. at the University of Massachusetts where he received a masters in American literature and creative writing.  Simultaneously with studying, he continued the antiwar and antiracist activities he had begun while in the service.  These and related commitments remained central to his life from that point on.

After earning his degree from UMass, Bohm taught at Karnataka University in India.  The choice to teach on the subcontinent sprang from the fact that his wife, whom he'd met in Germany while in the army, was a native of India.  After 3 years n India they returned to the U.S. where Bohm taught at Springfield College for a year, then left teaching.  After holding a variety of positions, including foster care worker for the welfare department and language arts coordinator for an alternative grammar school specializing in the needs of third world and low-income children, Bohm gravitated toward his occupation for the next 25 years:  ghostwriter for social justice, labor and non-intervention movements and organizations.  He also continued to write poetry and cultural analysis and to spend time in India with his wife and children.

In combination with the political disputes within the U.S. caused by the Vietnam war and the black power and civil rights movements, Bohm's relationship with Suman nee Kirloskar became a turning point in his life, motivating him to question many stock U.S. assumptions about culture, ethnicity, the political psychology of power and related issues.  

This questioning has been most noticeable in the evolution of Bohm's relationship to India.  His initial curiosity about the subcontinent evolved into a decades-long meditation on the issue of how the west looks at India and other previously colonized areas of the world.   Bohm's consideration of this issue, and his awareness of the wide range of areas, from the personal to the intricately political, that are influenced by it, informs the worldview that permeates his work.  Even when writing about U.S. working class life and other marginalized sectors of the U.S. population, his sense of the interconnections (sometimes violent, sometimes humane, but always unavoidable) between cultures adds subtle dimensions to many of his poems and essays. 

More than merely a cross-cultural couple, Bohm and his wife are equally driven by a commitment to justice issues and problems stemming from class divisions.  This has been trie for Ms. Bohm from her early work as a campaigner against sterilization through her lateer work as one of the leaders of a national union reform movement.  (*See "Note on Suman Bohm" below)

Besides writing poetry and cultural essays, Bohmworked for years as a ghostwriter, concentrating predominantly on cultural, political, educational and international policy issues.  

Bohm and his wife have spent much time in India since their marriage, although they've kept their primary  residence in the U.S.  They have two grown children and 5 grandchildren.  Bohm is currently completing What the Bird Tattoo Hides: The Vijaynagar Poems, a book consisting of decades of writings about his experiences in and around the village of Vijaynagar outside the city of Belgaum in Karnataka.  

Note on Suman Bohm

 

Suman Bohm was born in Kanpur, India during the final years of India's independence struggle.  Her father was a machinist and her mother a housewife.  Both were pro-independence, but the mother, Malti, more actively so.  Although an admirer of Gandhi, she was not a follower, and chose to train with an armed militia in case of British violence against the freedom movement.   At age 18, Suman traveled to Europe where she worked a range of jobs, learned to speak German and Danish fluently, and began to develop an analysis of the struggles of third world immigrants in western societies.  At the time she met Bohm in 1967, she worked as a clerk in the U.S. army hospital in Munich where he had just been assigned.  Their shared belief in the need for antiracism struggles and the incorrectness of the U.S. war in Vietnam provided the philosophical foundation for their relationship.  Following their marriage in 1968 and his discharge from the service, they went to the states where she gave birth to their first child, then started working as a cabinet-making.  Eventually, she gave up this work to become the Third World Women's Advocate at the University of Massachusetts' Everywoman's Center.  Both while holding this position and afterwards, she organized grassroots campaigns on multiple issues, including  sterilization abuse, the special plight of low-income women, forcing white feminism to eradicate its racial biases, the exploitation of third world and immigrant women, and violence against women.  After moving to Wilmington, Delaware, she was hired in 1982 at the General Motors autoplant where she worked first as a dashbard installer and then as a welder.  Following a "breaking in" period of 3 years, she began mobilizing the plant's workers against problems like speedup, layoffs and contract concessions as well as against the union's failure to respond adequately to those problems.  In spite of opposition from the union hierarchy who labeled her "militant" and "communist," she was elected by the plant's workers over the years to a number of union positions, including Shop Chair -- the highest union position in the plant, the top contract bargainer with the company.  She was the first woman in GM's history to hold this position in any of the company's assembly factories.  Coincident with such plantfloor activities, she also worked nationally with other labor activists to build a movement to end what they saw as corporate control of much of the labor movement.  In the course of this work, Bohm was elected national co-chair of the New Directions Movement (NDM).  NDM was a reform organization within the United Auto Workers (UAW) that The New York Times referred to in the 1990s as "the largest UAW rank and file movement since the 1930s."   Ms. Bohm retired from the Wilmington plant in 2007.