The Sunday Poem: Margaret Randall... Something's Wrong with the Cornfields

It was just yesterday I was reading something about genetically modified alfalfa. Alfalfa! Even a century is too short to measure the ultimate results. Margaret Randall frames these issues in her own wise and artful way.

Margaret Randall has published more than 80 books.  The following piece is the title poem from her forthcoming book, SOMETHING'S WRONG WITH THE CORNFIELDS. On March 13th at The Peace Center on Harvard, she will be launching it at an event sponsored by Albuquerque Poets Against War.  And next Sunday, Feb. 6th, Acequia Booksellers (4019 4th St. NW) hosts the release party for AS IF THE EMPTY CHAIR at 3:00.  This special release is a limited to 400 signed and specially bound copies.  Contact Acequia Booksellers for more information.


Also, in the press release sent to me by Acequia Books, was an extremely informative biography of the poet. I am including this material following the poem.

Something’s Wrong with the Cornfields

Something’s wrong with the cornfields.
In Utah’s wide valleys
between red rock walls
wind works
to stir a brush-cut of tassels.
Nothing moves.

Defiant, their strange offering
recalls molded plastic,
each spear exact height
of the next.
Dense thicket of green plants,

Winds unable to bend a stalk
carry altered seed and pollen.
Chemicals vanquish borer larvae,
inhabit milk of corn-fed cows,
poison those who drink,
erase the butterflies.

We witness the terror
of genetic engineering
seeds ripped from history
splitting threads of continuity.
Earth Mother’s hands
tied behind her back.

Memories of the family milpa,
childhood images of Kansas,
India’s suiciding farmers.
A threat to generations
teaching us to fear
designer sustenance.

I dream a stash of ancient cobs
chewed clean by teeth
and grit of sand
eight hundred years ago.
Escalante’s shallow stone basin
calls me home.

--Margaret Randall

Margaret Randall is a feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist. Born in New York City in 1936, she has lived for extended periods in Albuquerque, New York, Seville, Mexico City, Havana, and Managua. Shorter stays in Peru and North Vietnam were also formative. In the turbulent 1960s she co-founded and co-edited EL CORNO EMPLUMADO / THE PLUMED HORN, a bilingual literary journal which for eight years published some of the most dynamic and meaningful writing of an era. From 1984 through 1994 she taught at a number of U.S. universities.

Margaret has published more than 80 published books., including CUBAN WOMEN NOW, SANDINO’S DAUGHTERS, , WALKING TO THE EDGE: ESSAYS OF RESISTANCE, HUNGER’S TABLE: WOMEN, POLITICS & FOOD, TO CHANGE THE WORLD: MY YEARS IN CUBA, THEIR BACKS TO THE SEA and MY TOWN. AS IF THE EMPTY CHAIR / COMO SI LA SILLA VACIA (bilingual poetry, Wings Press) and FIRST LAUGH (essays, University of Nebraska Press) will be out in Spring 2011, RUINS (poems, University of New Mexico Press) and SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH THE CORNFIELDS (poems, Skylight Press) in Fall, 2011.

Margaret was privileged to live among New York’s abstract expressionists in the 1950s and early ’60s, participate in the Mexican student movement of 1968, share important years of the Cuban revolution (1969-1980), the first four years of Nicaragua’s Sandinista project (1980-1984), and visit North Vietnam during the heroic last months of the U.S. American war in that country (1974.

In 1984, Margaret came home to the United States, only to be ordered deported when the government invoked the 1952 McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act, judging opinions expressed in some of her books to be "against the good order and happiness of the United States." The Center for Constitutional Rights" defended her and many writers and others joined in an almost five-year battle for reinstatement of citizenship. She won her case in 1989. In 1990 she was awarded the Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett grant for writers victimized by political repression; and in 2004 was the first recipient of PEN New Mexico’s Dorothy Doyle Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing and Human Rights Activism. In 2009 two of her photographs were accepted into the Capitol Arts Foundation permanent collection of work by New Mexican artists on display at the State capitol.

"The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall" is an hour-long documentary by Minneapolis filmmakers Lu Lippold and Pam Colby. "El Corno Emplumado: A History of the Sixties," is a film about the journal Randall co-founded and edited from Mexico City. She has lived with her life companion, the painter and teacher Barbara Byers, for almost a quarter century.

Poetry submissions are welcome. Email

Views: 236

Comment by bg on January 30, 2011 at 1:01pm
It is terrifying.  Our past and our future, destroyed.
Comment by Krista on January 30, 2011 at 4:07pm
As corn has penetrated every facet of our food (as Margaret Randall points out) something's wrong with the corn soon becomes something is wrong with us.  wonderful poem
Comment by Dee Cohen on January 31, 2011 at 1:34pm

Margaret's' gift is her ability to reveal things to us and about us while still employing beautiful words.

A true poet and activist.

The shallow stone basin is a transcendent ending.

Thank you, Dee


Comment by Amanda Sutton on January 31, 2011 at 1:48pm
A compelling reminder to pay attention to what we put into the ground and thus our bodies. Bravo!
Comment by Margaret Randall on February 1, 2011 at 10:00am
Thank you all. And thank you, as always, Jon.
Comment by Poet Oishi on February 2, 2011 at 7:06pm
Margaret, you have such a way of calling attention to things that beg our attention but seldom get it. You turn our heads and eyes decisively with your words, away from the trivia, toward the crucial. Thank you!


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