Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, April 26, 2008

One of the best days of my life.

Today is almost over, but it’s been my old friend John de Roo’s birthday, and I wish I were with him to toast many happy returns of the day. We grew up together, fast friends since 8th grade, started our first band together in 9th grade (with Jay Sherman-Godfrey, who is pictured above with John, singing at my wedding, almost 7 years ago) -- those two people have always been two of my dearest and most important music teachers.

John sent out an email a few days ago with news. His friends the Denver country band WD40 covered his song “The Condoms Are Lonesome” and posted it on their MySpace page, and the radio show CarTalk played his old song “Was That Your Subaru?” recently.

The same day
that I got John’s email and the day after, I got two from college friends with all sorts of news that’s worth passing on.

One of the groups my college pal Andrew Boyd works with, Agit-Pop, has won the 2007 YouTube Video Award for the best political video of the year for their video “Stop the Clash of Civilizations”. Congrats! Andrew has also asked me to let people know about this Obama in 30 Seconds video he worked on for the MoveOn contest.

My friends in Theater Oobleck, the Chicago theater company I co-founded, sent all sorts of news too.

My old housemate Mickle Maher’s play The Strangerer has been remounted due to popular demand.

Another old housemate and friend and collaborator, Danny Thompson, has a show with another old friend and collaborator, Terri Kapsalis, that closes tomorrow, The Hysterical Alphabet. Sorry I won't be able to see it -- I'm hoping to see
The Strangerer.

In addition, Mickle’s script for The Strangerer has been published, as has Terri’s text for The Hysterical Alphabet.

And another friend from college, Angela Woodward, has a book of stories coming out too.

Always makes one happy to get good news from old friends.

My cousin L- is a social genius. When she got married in her 30s, she had been in so many of her friends’ weddings that there were far too many with whom she could reciprocate to be able to include them all, so her bridesmaids consisted solely of close unmarried friends. 300 people at the wedding. It was a blast.

After my dad’s funeral, and the wake, and the burial, L- did my family the tremendous kindness of going to my mom’s house, which is on the lake where my mom’s family has passed our summers for 90 years. After the onslaught of the events of the day, to get home and see her kids -- then aged 4 and 6 -- splashing and playing in the water -- it was an unexpected burst of joy on that dismal day. It’s absolutely what my dad would have wanted. The continuity of life on a beautiful, horrible, beautiful summer day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Seattle Chamber Players are playing a concert this Sunday that I’m really looking forward to.


Sunday, April 27, 2008, TOWN HALL - 1119 8th Ave / Seattle

6pm: Recital featuring pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama:
Sommer Reisen, a combination of Schubert's Impromptu, improvisation and sound samples of five Japanese cities.

7pm: Concert
Gustav Mahler -- Der Abschied ("Farewell") from Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") arranged by Schoenberg/Reihn for mezzo-soprano and ensemble.
Zhou Long -- Farewell for pipa and erhu solo and ensemble.
Louis Andriessen -- Bloken for piano solo;
Tao for solo piano, women's voices and ensemble.

I saw Seattle Chamber Players in January. They were terrific.

-- Seattle Chamber Players, Tomoku Mukaiyama

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Here I am singing "My Way" a week ago Sunday, Apr. 13, with Philistine Liberation Orchestra. It was the last song of the show's last act, after my regular band, Ruby Thicket, and 3 films and a performance by my old friend Ross Lipman. I'm checking the time on my cell phone before singing because we had to clear the room soon as soon as we were done and I wanted to make sure we had enough time before the final curtain . . .

The lovely band:
Bill Potter, guitar-synthesizer
Skip Milford, electric violin
Mac McClure, bowed saw
Bob Barraza, drums

Not all of the band members had met before we started, and nothing of what they did was planned beforehand -- which . . . you could probably tell. I love what they came up with. Bill is a serious composer; Bob is one of the most widely knowledgeable musicians I have ever worked with; Skip has done a lot of free improv; and Mac picks his spots judiciously. My pitch isn't perfect -- I learned I lack the technique to keep my intonation exact when the accompaniment is all over the place; but I thought about the lyrics a lot; I hope that comes across.

Before the 2004 election I predicted that American life expectancy would fall if Bush got reelected.

Life expectancy for Americans is falling, sooner than I predicted.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Peggy Lee agrees: You gotta have heart. Miles and miles and miles of heart.

Carl Wilson, in an argument with other rock bloggers (roggers? blockers?) about the dialectical relationship betwixt culture & society, brings up a quick-and-dirty description of the influence of the Nuge -- and if anybody would appreciate the quick and the dirty, it’s the Motor City Madman.

In considering the Nuge, it might be worth noting that he weren’t just macho imagery-persona writ large, he also dropped explicitly anti-gay diatribe along the way. Way way back, I think it was Michael Musto in the Village Voice who quoted the Nuge, something to the effect that, “There aren't any queers in Damn Yankees” (his band at the time), to which Musto replied, more or less, “He must not have been talking about the original Broadway cast, because honey, there were plenty of queers in that show.”

Meanwhile, we got Will and Grace, doing their complicated job of liberalizing the youth of North America regarding gay rights, producing the result that the young people of America are showing up with more liberal cultural attitudes than their parents.

I heard “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” on the radio today, and I had to turn the station. Not because of the cultural appropriation (which is real and complicated and not simply a, um, black and white issue), but because I can't stand Simon's vocal timbre. When I was a teenager, my grandpa scornfully said about Simon & Garfunkel, one day when we were listening to them, "They sound like children." In Simon's voice I hear the voice of tired, resigned, somewhat whiny liberalism, which I also hear in most "adult contemporary" rock singers, from Norah Jones to Jack Johnson and beyond.

Any liberal who can stand up and not sound that way -- and also not sound scolding -- they're going to go a long way toward making themselves and their policies “more attractive and advantageous for people in various contexts to accept,” as Carl put it.

* * *

One of the funniest cultural moments in the last 15 years or so was when Robert Bly started channeling the Nuge at his Men's Movement confabs.

The Nuge (between-song patter on Double Live Gonzo, paraphrased from memory): “If there are any mama's boys in here they can just get the fuck right out of here.”

Bly (quoted in Harper's magazine at a men's movement conference, paraphrased from memory): “Any mama's boys in here can just get the fuck out of the temple.”

Bly might not have said “fuck,” but he did say “temple.” Raise that goblet of rock, bro.

* * *

More to say about all of this -- another time. Obviously, the role of rock in macho culture looms stratocastically. Which is to say, influence can be multivalent. But -- you gotta have hope. Mustn't sit around and mope.

* * * Late correction the next night: "
I can't stand Simon's vocal timbre" should have been, "Sometimes I can't stand Simon's vocal timbre." I love a lot of his music.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Manitas de Plata ("Little Hands of Silver")

I recognized one of the teenagers at tonight’s Seder -- he had worked at a private kids’ gym where the 5-year-old had been invited to a birthday party in January. A nice teenager; yes, he worked there; I recognized his name, T-, as much as I recognized him. Later in the evening I overheard him telling another teenager that his band was breaking up because everybody wanted to go to college; from how he talked, apparently they had had some local success.

During dinner I sat across the table from a flamenco guitarist -- a white guy -- T’s father. I had a lot of questions.

“Where did you study?”

“I heard flamenco when I was in law school. I dropped out and went to Spain.”

Stories about studying with Gypsy families in southern Spain, families who had passed down their own repertory for hundreds of years.

“What’s the relationship between flamenco and cante hondo?”

“They’re basically the same thing. Gypsies call what they do ‘cante’ -- ‘song,’ though not ‘cancion.’” Some gypsy families can’t afford a guitar, but they can still sing “cante,” with handclap or table-thumping accompaniment.

The supreme moments in flamenco center around the singer, J- told me, and they only happen in private. A connoisseur will invite a great singer to his house, and the evening will be conducted in order to make the singer comfortable, in hopes that something special would happen. A guitarist would play, maybe a lesser singer would sing a song, people would drink, someone would make a request, “Do you remember that song that so-and-so sang at such-and-such a time?” And it only got really, really good if the people at the house were aficionadoes. The great singer might sing something pretty, but the aficionadoes would say, “We don’t want that pretty shit.” Do you know about the duende?

I nodded familiarity.

“Duende is the spirit, and when the spirit takes over, anything might happen. Nothing matters, only getting that sound out. The singer might tear his shirt, it’s like possession.”

“Did you ever witness this?”

“Two or three times. It usually doesn’t happen. But that’s always the goal.”

“It sounds extraordinary.”

“Yeah, it’s worth three years of your life. I had all sorts of other adventures too during that time. I thought I was there to learn this style, but I realized later that I was there to learn things about myself.”

I confessed knowing only a tiny bit about flamenco, and asked about Manitas de Plata, a/k/a Ricardo Baliarda.

“He’s like cream cheese. You gotta go for brie. You gotta go for the stinky stuff.” But he didn’t have recommendations; not much of it available commercially, he said.

I asked about his repertory.

“Flamenco is like blues. You learn different types of songs, different rhythms, different riffs, different harmonic patterns. Maybe one family will have a [Spanish equivalent of riff] that always goes in one particular song, maybe there will be little things that will have been composed,” but he preferred improvisation.

T-, J-’s son, is going to Sevilla this summer to visit a friend of his dad’s, a flamenco guitarist. “Can I come with you?” T- laughed.

Here’s some video of Manitas de Plata

The Seder was lovely. I’d never been to one before.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Showtime is coming, and I probably will be out of Blogville for the next week. The big show I keep mentioning is Sunday. The Sprocket Society is producing it, and Spencer Sundell, of the Sprocket Society, sent out an email:

This coming Sunday at the Rendezvous, the Sprocket Society presents a special event featuring original works by Los Angeles filmmaker and noted restorationist ROSS LIPMAN, plus live music by Seattle's own RUBY THICKET and THE PHILISTINE LIBERATION ORCHESTRA.

Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 7:00 PM
The JewelBox Theater at the Rendezvous
2322 2nd Avenue, Seattle (in Belltown)
$5 suggested donation

More info at http://SprocketSociety.org/events/

KEEP WARM, BURN BRITAIN is Ross Lipman's personal memoir of the London anarchist squatters movement during the 1980s. A work-in-progress, Ross will present it as a Magic Lantern slide show with live narration plus recorded music by legendary street performer Thoth (who was the subject of a 2002 Oscar-winning documentary short).

Lipman is internationally known for his film/video and performance work, as well his writings and restorations of independent cinema. His 16mm and 35mm experimental films have screened throughout the world at venues such as London International Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives (NYC), the Los Angeles Film Forum, the San Francisco Cinematheque, Sixpackfilm/Top-Kino (Vienna), AMIA (Austin, Minneapolis), Chinese Taipei Film Archive (Taiwan), and many others. This is his Seattle debut.

Lipman is also one of the world's leading figures in the restoration of independent cinema. Working at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, he has restored films by John Cassavetes, Kenneth Anger, John Sayles, Emile de Antonio, and others. In 2007, the National Society of Film Critics gave Lipman their Film Heritage Award "for the restoration of Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep and other independent films."

Also on the program are several of Ross' earlier experimental shorts and and documentaries:

10-17-88 (1989, 16mm)
An optically printed collage of found and archival footage, with audio collage by John (Ruby Thicket) Shaw.

A requiem for Grandma Prisbrey's famous cathedral of light, built entirely of glass bottles, pencils, and industrial detritus. With a score improvised on a broken piano by Jodie Baltazar (aka Monotrona).

A screen test for a film that was never made, a feature-length narrative about the unbridgeable gap and connection between a father and son.


Live music by RUBY THICKET
Featuring John Shaw (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Mac McClure (bowed saw and vocals), Bob Barraza (drums, shakuhachi flute, ukulele, and vocals), Jillian Graham (vocals and rhythm guitar), and Jim Graham (bass). Download sample MP3s from their CD "You Never Know What You'll See" at

Lounge and show standards crooned (or c-ruined?) over free improvised accompaniment. Featuring the velvet pipes of John Shaw backed by composer Bill Potter on guitar-synth, the lovely and talented David Milford on fiddle, members of Ruby Thicket, and other surprise guests. The set list includes songs associated with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Kate Smith, Robert Goulet, Man of La Mancha, and Woody Guthrie.

Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 7:00 PM
The JewelBox Theater at the Rendezvous
2322 2nd Avenue, Seattle (in Belltown)
$5 suggested donation

I particularly like Spencer's coinage, "c-ruined"; it's not my intent with the songs at all, but I'm sure some people would take it that way.

As an unexpected bonus show, Jillian and Jim Graham -- wonderfully subbing in Ruby Thicket for the sadly absent Jen Anspach and Robert Hinrix -- have a show of their own on Friday the 11th, and they asked the rest of Ruby Thicket to join them for part of it. Mac won't be able to be there, but Bob and I will. I'll probably play some solo tunes too, and Jillian and Jim will be playing a set of their own originals, jazz standards, and pop covers. Here's the details:

Friday, April 11, 8pm to 10pm
Coffee To A Tea
4541 California Ave SW, Seattle 98116
(206) 937-1495
Kids welcome.

-- poster design by Brian Alter

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sometimes poets complain about
other poets
dabblings in political commentary
or description
or analysis,
politics mars the poem. Often
these are the same poets
who extol the virtues of
Now, I’m a songwriter, I have nothing against craft,
craft is important; or, rather, it’s handy, as
a craftsperson has the chops to double as a handyman or -woman.
When writing a song, it’s handy to have craft
to fill in the cracks, if you want them filled,
to smooth away the joints, if you want them smoothed,
to trick out some backgroundwork
with some filigree,
to avoid an unenticingly boxy design.
But the craft is useless if you lack a good idea.
Whatever happened to dandy turns of phrase?
That’s what I want to know.
When a poet turns a phrase that worms into the texture
of my daily life, then I think, now that’s poetry.
Or, that’s a good turn of phrase,
that’s catchy.
Because it’s often not poets per se
go ahead and make my day.
Committed poets -- to which category I do not belong --
can no doubt quote all sorts of contemporary poets
whose phrases have wormed into their daily-life repertory,
but I can’t.
There are two or three living poets of whom I could say this,
that their stuff has changed my life,
and they’re old, they’ve been publishing for decades.
In the pre-modern era, that seemed to be one of a poet’s main jobs,
to turn dandy phrases for use in people’s lives.
The moderns did it too --
W. C. Williams, T. S. Eliot, even Gertrude Stein with her pigeons and roses,
Ezra Pound in his prose though not his poetry,
Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, E. E. Cummings, Carl Sandburg, others.
Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan for sure.
(I omit the names of the living.)
Is turning a catchy phrase a matter of craft, or idea?
A recent biography of Benjamin Franklin,
which I haven’t read
though I read a review
argues that a lot of Poor Richard’s maxims,
Franklin borrowed from common usage
or other authors
and tightened up, edited, made them pithy and catchy.
Clearly it’s a case of both craft and idea.
Now there’s no reason a poem on a politicized subject
couldn’t inspire catchy lines.
“An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king” --
that has a certain zest and bite,
I quote it, with pleasure, without looking it up.
Percy Shelley wrote it about King George the Third,
the one the Americans rebelled against.
I wrote a batch of poems a few months ago
and was trying to remember today
if any catchy lines transpired
and I thought of one:
“To be in love with life and never to measure up,
not that any of us is unworthy
but that, at last, each of us is discarded.”
I’m probably misquoting.
I’m not there.
I’m not doing the indelibly catchy phrase thing.
Years ago I wrote a full-length play
which my friends and I produced.
It was an anarchist company
which gave each actor the right to rewrite
his or her lines.
Years later I met some people who had seen the play
and they quoted a catchy line from it
which I didn’t recognize
because I probably hadn’t written it!
The play was political, among other things.
This poem is too.
For months I tried to figure out how the mortgage meltdown happened.
The whole idea was based on bubble thinking,
that the buyer could always sell for a profit
if they were no longer able to pay the mortgage
because prices were seen to be rising forever
which is bubble thinking
and bubble thinking has never yet been right.
Lenders knew this.
Lenders knew that bubbles always burst.
And they knew that a lot of the borrowers would not
be able to repay their loans
because they were lending money without verifying income
or assets
or job history
or anything
just sign on the dotted line and get your loan.
Lenders knew this could only end in grief.
I know some nonprofit lenders and they were going bananas.
They knew it would end in disaster.
“How could a few of us in our little office on Rainier Avenue
know this would be a problem when nobody else did?”
The woman who said this was pissed. Disgusted.
(Rainier Avenue is the main thoroughfare
through the poor end of town.)
What I finally realized after thinking about it for months:
The lenders knew that it would be a problem
and they didn’t care.
They didn’t care because they didn’t have to.
They knew they would pay no consequence when everything crashed.
Sure, banks might close,
millions of home owners would lose their investment,
investors would get soaked,
whole industries would face massive layoffs,
but the lenders would have cashed their checks
and the people at the top, who signed off on it all,
would get filthy rich.
That has been Republican policy for decades:
Pave the way for the concentration of wealth
regardless of its effect on the “general welfare,”
to quote that quaint, dated, lovely phrase from the Constitution’s Preamble.
It’s hard to imagine recourse against the malefactor lenders.
Could the investors sue for malfeasance?
I don’t know.
Could the borrowers sue for lack of fiduciary scruples?
Probably not successfully.
The malefactors of great wealth aren’t even robber barons.
The malefactors of great wealth are robber regents.
They pay no consequence when they run the regency aground.
Barthes’s concept of the death of the author
has found its apotheosis in pluto-looto-cratic ideology.
The catastrophe’s authors have vanished from view.
The robber regents planned their murder of the economy to look like a suicide.

-- thanks BCM, whoever you are, and the bounty of the internet, for the image

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sardines, by Michael Goldberg, 1955

* * *

Why I Am Not A Poet

I admire poets who say that
who you know is the most important facet of
being a poet, because it’s so
absurd and yet it partakes of a
large portion of truth as regards career. Of
course a career is not a poem, or not in the
poets’ sense of “a poem,” though it may be a
poem in the aesthetic or mystic or cosmic
I enjoy arguing about poetry -- particularly
various aspects of the history of
poetry, and about poetry’s relationship with
other forms of verse -- jingle, song lyric -- and
about prosody. Many of
the people arguing are themselves
poets -- or most of
them -- and yet I have little
interest in their actual poetry. For
instance, if I didn’t love
myself so well, I would likely have little
interest in the poems I’ve been writing and
posting the last few days.
Like, for instance, these
line breaks -- is there
anything in the world more mannered than
arbitrary line breaks? I
enjoy imagining a brief pause
coming at the ends of these
lines, and enjambment is
a pleasure, for the enjamber
anyway, and I wonder whether the
coming of the pause is
orgasmic --
I am not a poet because the idea of
reciting or publishing or
submitting -- submissive word, submit! -- submitting
poems for publication fills me with a sense of
distaste. Really. And anyway
who would publish them? They’re not
any good, probably, though I do, honestly,
like them.
I could name
of poets whose examples
tread lightly or
in my mind’s echoing ear as
type these things into a
but why
bother. I’d only insult
the dead and their
admirers. Oh, maybe one
living too. No
When I was 18, 19, 20, I
wrote poems assiduously, and
recited them and
submitted them and
got a handful of
them published and
I was on my little dorm-poetry
scene, along
poets who have gone on to illustrious
careers as playwrights and made
no money,
or very
And poets who stopped writing poetry, and
one poet who has published several books to notable
acclaim and become a professor of
poetry, though she wasn’t really part of
the dorm scene even though
she lived in
the dorm and for a while
dated someone on the theater
scene which
overlapped with
the poetry scene and who
has made a living writing
in Hollywood. I could name
and if you were part of
that scene you
who I’m
talking about.
Naming names is an important part
of the poetry scene in
Blogville -- not just who
you know but who you
The political blog scene with which I’ve overlapped a tiny
bit and the music blog
scene with which I’ve intersected a
lot both don’t care that
I don’t post my last
The only people who have ever
cared have been denizens of
the poetry blog
scene. It’s really
weird. And funny! Especially when the guff comes
from poets associated with the fetish of
“the death of the author” -- not that Barthes’s essay is
worthless -- or from a poet -- and this happened
once -- who first made his
under a pseudonym! And I admired -- and
continue to admire -- his old pseudonymous
poems. So it was flattering to be argued with
by him, and to be challenged about my
and be referred to as
in quotes as
if that’s not my
It is my
(Only a few people have ever called me
and fewer still
though I always liked
and briefly used the radio
“Big Jack”
and my attempt 16 years ago
to give myself the nickname
failed pitifully.)
When I started this
blog it was on a whim and an
ambition to write and think and take part in
interesting conversations and I
wasn’t sure whether I’d want my last
associated with it so I
kept it off, and whenever anybody challenged me I
always said that the last name is findable on
the links on the blog -- specifically on
the “My Band”
link -- and that if people were so
concerned about
they could look it up.
I can imagine being a poet again, and in a
way I never stopped being
one because
I write verses for songs and always have, and I
do believe that song lyrics are a type of
poetry though I
make no claim for
mine apart from their
tunes. The point is they don’t need to
make a claim apart from their tunes, they
were meant to go with their tunes. But if I
were to try to be a tuneless poet again I
would only attempt it in a performance
context, because
I have no faith in “page”
poetry any more, it seems always a
private affair, my own
stuff very much
included, written for the Whatever of
though I still
enjoy reading
it including new
-- maybe even yours! --
no recent “page” poet for decades has
altered my sense of
language and life, has grabbed my
innards and tossed them skyward like
a baby. I shouldn’t blame poetry or
for that, but there it
Why I am not a poet.

Science proves the poets right.

The number of combinations [between neurons] becomes so large that it is unlikely that we will ever understand all the possible connections in the brain, or what they mean. The number of combinations possible -- and hence the number of possible different thoughts or brain states each of us can have -- exceeds the number of known particles in the entire known universe. -- This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Daniel J. Levitin, 2006

hugest whole creation may be less
incalculable than a single kiss
-- E. E. Cummings, 1962

-- Kiss by Ninja

E. E. Cummings

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A mosaic of Orpheus singing to animals,
found on the internet with no explanatory detail

* * *

Sometimes poets talk admiringly of how another poet
“put something” into his or her poem – a leaky air conditioner, or a ball of wax –
And I really like this idea of the poem just sitting there,
Waiting for a poet to fill it with stuff.
With words, obviously, but words that point to stuff, in
This construction, this vision of what a poem is, a
For the poet to fill with stuff. I like it because,
Here it is, a poem, lying here, or floating here, or ethereally existing here,
But in any case already here, waiting for me – me! – to fill it.
The casual talky tone I’ve adopted seems suited to low-key satire, which is fine, as
Far as it goes,
But the thing about poetry it is,
I mean the THING about poetry is,
The THING is,
As the poem gets stuffed, you might, as reader, or I, as writer, become
Conscious of how odd and funny the various bits of language that come
To mind can be. Other poets like it when poetry facilitates the “taking flight”
Of language, and believe that poetry may or may not be of stuff, as long as
It “flies,” or “sings,” or otherwise gets birdlike.
I think my poem just laid an egg!
What will hatch from it?
I hope a song.
Because I like birdlike poetry too, I like it when language unmoors from the
Prosaic docks of signification, gets loose from the helium balloon string of
Decorative festivity and floats off carried by the wind until the inevitable slow
Leakage of helium deflates the verbiage and it sinks to earth,
Mere litter, a colorful scrap of rubber garbage with string attached.
When language comes to mind, whence comes it?
It comes from Yes.
It comes from Assent, Agreement, Possibility, Affirmation, Celebration, as a
Basketball swishes through nothing but net – Yes! Language
Does its victory fist whenever it speaks us, because,
Our knowledge of it precedes our consciousness of it, our memory of it,
Our expertise with it – suchever as it may or may not be – precedes
Conscious memory, our elders raise us into it, mother us into the Tongue, so
That it is never wholly “ours” to be “mastered” by our intellect, ego, or other
Metaphorically-pointed-to controlling self.
The net has a hole in the bottom. It is there to make the tube musical, and yet when
A basketball player is “in the zone,” he never boasts about feeling “swishy,”
Does he? Even though a flying bird’s wings swish too.
Orpheus – and this is more a manifestation of anxiety about music than poetry – got
Classically tarred with being effeminate. It goes for poetry too, as
Orpheus is as much the emblem-icon for poetry as for music. Is it because
Music “penetrates” us? And so does poetry? These temporally directed
Designs enter us and change how we feel.
But then wouldn’t the poet and the musician
Be the “top” in this schema? Or is the inspired musician or poet
“filled” with the inspiration of the muses, as in that Rembrandt painting of
The angel whispering in Saint Matthew’s ear as he composes his Gospel,
And he looks up, startled, and puts his hand over his heart,
Because the language that has come to his mind
Has struck him as so beautiful, he can’t believe it. He
Isn’t aware of the Angel. Could it be that we seldom are? Believers believe
That only Saints get Talked To like that, but . . . I hope not!

* * *

A cordial wave of the pixels to John Latta and Daisy Fried, for stimulating the poem urge.

The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by the Angel, ca. 1660, Rembrandt

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Here is a poem.
What shall I put in it?
A minutely observed datum of daily experience is always nice.
Especially when it opens allegorically into an epiphany,
By which I mean, a revelatory new understanding of something,
Not an appearance of the god.
Although it is nice to imagine worshiping the shock of an unexpected and fresh understanding.
I think this will be a self-reflexive poem
I think it already is!
The self-reflexiveness feels cutesy to me, but even though I’m already 39 years old
(how time flies!)
Sometimes I still feel cutesy.
No doubt many potential readers will find this boring or self-indulgent or both.
I wish that weren’t the case but I don’t feel like apologizing.
I’m not really 39. That’s a dumb allusion to a dated joke of Jack Benny’s. I’m 44.
Unless you know me, you’ll have to take my “word” on that.
I’m typing this poem on a computer. Its settings have decided to
Capitalize initial words
(except when they occur within parentheses),
Not that the computer has a choice in the matter, but that’s how i
Frequently experience it.
For instance, I expected it to auto-capitalize the English first-person pronoun, but
For some reason it didn’t once. I
Will keep it in the poem that way.
For a time it was fashionable to include partial erasures in poems,
To show the crossed-out lines that the poet wrote, then reconsidered, then
Decided to keep as a partially erased line – or word – by showing it
With a line through it – not erased, but crossed-out.
I know how to do this longhand, obviously, and on a typewriter too,
But I haven’t bothered to learn the computer program – hah! I mistyped the word “poem” instead of “program”! how funny! And then went back and fixed it – I haven’t learned the computer program to cross words out and leave them standing, to put it in this
I just – no I didn’t, never mind.
I see that the computer failed to initially capitalize one line.
Oh, it was a wrap-around.
My friend Bob is playing drums in a bar tonight. He’s
In my band and in this other band that I haven’t heard, but
I plan to tonight. After my son goes to bed, I will get in the car and drive across
Town to have a beer and listen to Bob’s band. Afterwards I
Will go to the record store to see if Mark is there – he’s a drummer too, and
I’m hoping he’ll be in my other band, not the one with Bob, though Bob will
Be in the other band too. after looking for Mark I will go grocery shopping
And go home to clean the kitchen and put away laundry, probably
Post this poem on my blog, and write some emails. Maybe I will revise
This poem, since I have already, making it seem an off-the-cuff improvisation,
Which it still would be, in part. My son
Will be asleep and I will kiss him. My wife will be awake and probably reading; she will ask me how
The band was. Although if she’s doing something on the computer I might not post this until
We’ll see.

-- Sumerian scribe lifted from Missouri State

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Notes in the wake of publicly expressing pessimism over poetry.

Dreaming of a poetry of compound words that tell whole stories, contain whole visions.








My skill is poor.

The recurrent childhood dream of breathing underwater. Swim! Swim! Swim!

Speculation of no consequence: Eternity is to time as the 3rd dimension is to a Flatlander.

Science fiction: Gary Snyder wanted the poet to be responsible to the last 40,000 years. Why 40,000? Because the earliest surviving tools/or/art date from then? Don’t know. My thing: 40,000 years from NOW. That’s what we’re responsible for. The past: Fascinating; the ancestral gods; roots. The future: Those yet unborn, whom, in imagination’s morality, we love. Future thinking must -- must! -- imagine that we don’t species-suicide. NOW: how to ensure that we don’t.

A new book calls for the U.S. to open its border with Mexico. Hear hear! Reparations: The U.S. stole the swath from southern California to Texas from Mexico 160 years ago. Absurd! -- that the poor people of that country have to sneak -- illegally -- into this country. Parag Khanna sounds plausible -- confirms my hunches -- that the American hegemony is over, positing a trilateral world between the U.S., the E.U., and China, with the 3 great powers competing over the resources in the “second world” -- the title of his book. Curious to read it.

40,000 years from now, nationalism will seem a pitiful fearful superstition.

Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory. -- Ulysses S. Grant, 1885, on the Mexican-American War

The phrase “a line in the sand” has military roots dating to the Roman Empire.

Edmund Spenser knew the ephemerality of sand-writing.

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away;
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide and made my pains his prey.
"Vain man," said she "thou dost in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize,
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise."
"Not so," quoth I "let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name;
Where, whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew."
-- Amoretti LXXV, 1595

-- photo of the Tunisian Sahara by Declan McCullagh

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?