Tuesday, March 31, 2009

All that Jazz

Last Thursday, I participated (unexpectedly) in a fundraiser for Jazzmouth, the upcoming poetry, music, and art festival in Portsmouth. I'd attended in order to see some new poets, to contribute a few bucks, to hear a couple of poets who already interest me, and to indulge in a newfound love for live jazz.

I've never been fond of jazz. Blues, absolutely. Sit me down with a recording of Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, and I'm in hog heaven. The jazz I heard on the radio in Chicago was always too light for me. I'll read poetry that is intellectual without having heart, but I can't take music that's all head and no gut. Hypocritical? Probably. But it didn't change the fact that the closest I'd get to improvisational music was, well, 8-bar blues and a decent guitar solo in a rock song.

I'd been proud of this fact. The only autobiographical note in all of "ADD TV" is the line that kicks the whole thing off: "My music is not jazz / but rap." I'd performed a one-off poem at Mic Check once that lauded the grounded improvisation of Blues over what I perceived to be an elitist and ironically mindless following of jazz - "Famous poets always talkin' 'bout jazz / Famous poets always' talkin' bout jazz / Famous poets, they love to talk about jazz / But baby, I wear a Bluesman's hat."

I realize at this moment that I'm still capitalizing Blues but not Jazz.

Then I attended Beat Night, at which Groove Bacteria, which seems to range from 5-10 musicians, takes instruction from a poet and responds musically. Now, I'd been to the Green Mill in Chicago on nights when the three-piece (piano, bass, drums) band backs up the open mic. But I'd never seen anybody except Marc Smith really work well with the band. Maybe I just went on the wrong nights. But at Beat Night, I finally heard someone say, "Play like the house is underwater" and heard that from the band AND the poet. I finally heard someone say, "Punk gospel" and saw the poet come alive because of the music in a way I hadn't seen before (I mean this literally in this case, having seen another well-done performance of this particular poem by this particular poet).

At the end of the regular portion of the fundraiser, there was room for an open mic, so I signed up. I walked up to the mic planning on doing something light and funny. I'd performed at Beat Night before, but did "ADD TV" and not to music. I can't do that piece to music (the musicians agreed). At the last moment, I decided to do "Wooden Boys and Deadlier Toys," with the request to the band "A music box that was in a fire." Not only have I never performed that poem better, but I got ideas on how to improve it, from a fellow poet in the audience and from within my own head. I finally got the improvisation, which is something I've been exploring in my spoken word lately.

And, to my surprise, not just from my own performance but the other readings that night, I'm starting to enjoy Jazz.

Monday, March 30, 2009

In Brief

Been looking through old journals, since I'm almost at the end of my current one. Found a couple of poems that I think I can revisit and rework with the (sometimes years') distance. In the meantime, thought-starters for anyone visiting:


I've got the White House as #3 on my speed dial / right after God / and Al Pacino


A fat rabbit hops into a bar. The bartender says, "We don't like your kind, round hare."


Those who give up the search for Truth may still seek (and even demand) consistencies of the world.


Snowpile haiku:

home to the fairies-
this sparklingwhite sparklingwhite
hill that isn't there


th #s n m hd bgn slppng


I can't ever walk on water without comparisons to Jesus.


Life raft, accordion


If they talked a mile a minute: Brothers Karamazov, Huck Finn, Mrs Dalloway, etc


rocket propelled serenade


Parody of song playing non-stop on radio:

My girl's in
The next room
I must be some kind of tool
I guess I never expected gooooooooooooon
orrhea and syphilis and HIV
I'm a fuckin' idiot with fifteen STDs
And my balls just ain't feelin' too well
Thanks to the lips of an angel


We have met the Underworld, and it is Us.


lemurs & meth


list of things I think I hear Ilya Kaminsky say during a reading at AWP:

"stature of a persian crane"
"refusing to better, they are dead"
"they make love - in the moving they are unable to hear"
"a straight judge, a soprano, a Venetian"
"there are cares before wine"
"closed doors and no flashlights"
"colonialism moves the mouth"
"yes, the police are fatigated"
"in back came a marble eviction"


[two pages later in this journal I note my first meeting with Karin Gottshall - heard a poem of hers at one of the evening shindigs and absolutely had to write a poem in response]


To you, my bibliographers, my failed millennium,


Hope somebody gets inspired.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Space and Light (part 2)

[Insert various jokes about how I've kept my space from this blog for a couple of weeks now here]


I've not written much online in the last couple of weeks. There are a number of reasons, but the one that applies to this post has to do with space. I've been enjoying it, walking around downtown Portsmouth, walking across the bridge to Maine (which is fun to say, but I have to admit that it's only about twenty minutes to the border from here). I haven't wanted to be inside. I do a lot of revision in my head anyway, so this isn't necessarily a problem.

I've been thinking a lot about composition as it relates to place lately. My last space and light post had to do with spoken word, but I'm curious about their effect on written work as well. I'm not certain that my physical confines actually do much to my writing, which strikes me as odd. I feel like it should. A few questions that I feel like I ought to be asking:

If I were denied paper and pen (or computer), would I end up like my former professor John O'Leary, composing sonnets (or variations on sonnets), since the form would help my ability to remember and revise them? Would I do more with sound as I spoke aloud to myself? If I composed on scraps of paper, would I compose more fragmented poems, or prose poems, or haiku? If I wrote on the backs of grocery lists, would my line breaks come more often and lose any relationship to sound or sense? If I got a bigger monitor (which I had to do, as mine died around the time I stopped blogging - no coincidence), would my poems become more visually expansive (see Fig. 1)?

Fig. 1

I'd be a more useful blogger, perhaps, if I could draw a correlation here. But the truth is no. In my journals, I scribble all over the place, to the point that I now use an unlined Moleskine because I draw arrows and upside and sideways anyway. The poem in Fig. 1, the first poem in a sequence that will be published in Bathhouse: A Hypermedia Journal, was possible because of the broad bounds of a word processor, but I didn't "need" the word processor to conceive of the scattered words. I like to lay down while writing in my journal because it seems to make the space between me and the page smaller. But I like leaning back and listening to another poet and letting revisions and ideas just wash over me. And I also like a relatively clear computer screen, without icons all over the place, the opposite of my journal.

Here's the unlined Moleskine with notes for my audio essay "Persona," available on Arts & Crafts:

I've lost track of whether or not any of this is interesting to anyone else. Anyone else?


Just because I like it - here's a picture of my current desktop on the new monitor. Geeky joy indeed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I just spent 20 minutes being reduced to gestures and grunting. This is thoroughly embarrassing.

Walking home from the bank, I passed a Latino couple whose car was stalled in the street. I discovered that my Spanish has deteriorated so badly that we had to communicate primarily through hand motions. That meant the guy and I were pushing on the car for a full minute before I walked up to the driver's side window and discovered she'd had it in park the entire time. Attempt to gesture on how to shift into neutral. She gives up, gets me into the front seat. I get it in neutral, but they don't have the force to move the car now. I put it back in park, hand-explain again, and we get the car in the parking lot. Unfortunately, it's not where they want it. Of course, I've offered my help, and my Spanish sucks, so I can neither just take off nor quibble. We spent twenty minutes putting the car into something approximating the place they wanted it.

As a 22-23 year old, I wrote a chapbook in both Spanish and English. Not only that, but the Spanish was nuanced, genuinely poetic. Now I'm miming steering wheels and ending up in the wrong space.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Ravenous, Flatulent Eagle Steed

Kate and I relaxed the other morning with a simple breakfast and a round of Munchkin. For those of you not in the know and afraid to follow the link to a site called BoardGameGeek, Munchkin is a card game for two or more players that simultaneously encourages and parodies D&D-like behavior. You begin as a level 1 human with no class (pun intended) and proceed to flip over cards to progress through a dungeon (encountering such beasts as the Grassy Gnoll and the Wannabe Vampire), collecting magical items (like the Cheese Grater of Peace), and trying to achieve level 10. The trick is that players band together early on, helping each other out in exchange for a share of the treasure. In the mid- and late-game, however, everyone turns on everyone else, backstabbing, making fun, and generally wreaking good-natured havoc with as many puns as possible.

There are some blank cards in the deck, and Kate and I are slowly coming up with our own monsters, curses, items, etc for these. If you don't want to burn yourself out on geekiness, don't read any more of this post.

1. Awkward Relationship (modifier) One player and one monster recognize each other from...that one time at the tavern. Both exit the battle, leaving nothing behind (except broken hearts).

2. Reiner Knizia (monster - variable level: add up all bonuses due to items, then divide by the number of players) Bad stuff: The theme seems kind of tacked on. Lose your race and class.

3. Last Ditch (item - no value) Play this to prevent one character from winning the game. It even works against Divine Intervention (the cleric fell in and missed the Call).

4. Stacked Deck (item - 300gold) Usable by female players or sex-changed males only. While the chauvanist pigs around the table are ogling this card, look at the top three cards in the deck and keep one.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Advertising drove me to Poetry

The gap between my last post and this one is perhaps the longest since I've started blogging. I have several things I'd like to post about, but the "20 books that made you fall in love with poetry" game that's been going around the blogosphere has been weighing on my mind. Once I get this off my chest, I should be able to write those other, probably more interesting posts.

Here's the thing: I don't have 20 books that made me fall in love with poetry/Poetry. It only took three authors to make me fall in love with it. One, Shakespeare. Two, EE Cummings. Three, an ex-girlfriend who wrote a lot. This was all in high school. Anybody I read after that added to my knowledge or gave me new ideas or became a particular poet whose work I loved, but it only took these three to give me the bug.

More importantly than that, even, is why I decided to become a poet. I wrote, as many children do, ditties and song lyrics as a young'un, rhymes to sing-song in time with a swing or teeter-totter. They were crap, as most of these things are. In high school, influenced particularly by Cummings, I tried to blend form and content. If I wrote about two people from opposite sides of the tracks, I'd have the lines going in different directions on the page, mirroring each other. But this was just something to do in my free time, to show one or two other people. Even entering and winning a poetry contest (READ magazine) my senior year was due primarily to the encouragement of my English teacher, Mr. Murawski. I had no intention of BEING a poet.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I interned at a major advertising firm. I worked with words every day, copywriting. In a set number of words, we had to influence people, create a particular emotion or association, a longing for a product or lifestyle. I learned far more than I contributed during that time, and when I was done, I was no longer a historian who happened to like words. I was a poet who really liked history. This was as much a rejection of the advertising world as it was an embrace of Poetry. I (somewhat naively) made a decision that I did not want to use any verbal talent I had to get people to blindly accept what I was telling them. That's propaganda, advertising, reducing consciousness.

I chose poetry because it did the opposite of what we were doing as a firm - it forced people to think, to question. Sears, Jim Beam, Pokemon, Star Wars, Taco Bell. These are the things that cemented my love for Poetry.