Friday, December 31, 2010

Virtual Reading #1

Happy Friday to you all!  Today is the day we bid 2010 a fond(?) farewell.  As my own personal ave atque vale to this year, I’m offering a virtual reading of two poems from my collection The Spring Ghazals.

Both of these poems found their titles in the works of others—“don’t think twice” obviously coming from the old Bob Dylan tune & “what can we talk about that will take all night?” coming from a powerful Kenneth Patchen poem titled “Do the Dead Know What Time It Is?”  Patchen is a personal favorite. The poem “don’t think twice” falls in the middle third of the ghazal sequence, while “what can we talk about that will take all night” falls in the final third.

As a reminder: you can purchase The Spring Ghazals at the following online outlets (links go directly to the book):

Barnes & Noble (new—& a bargain at $11.04 US!)
Amazon UK (£7.94)

Both Amazon & Lulu have the book for $12 US. 

Hope you enjoy the poems!

Pic shows roses on the pergola at Swannanoa, Virginia-detail from a larger photo

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Writers Talk with Dick Jones

As proof that neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night can stay Robert Frost’s Banjo from the completion of its rounds, we have today’s Writers Talk interview posted on time!  This on the heels of an 18-1/2 hour power outage yesterday, following a power outage of several hours the day before—all, as you can imagine, as part of a #%$@! winter storm.  Enough said.

I don’t recall exactly when I first started visiting Dick Jones blog, Patteran Pages, but it has been a regular stop on my cyber rounds for some time, & I’m also most gratified to note that Dick is a frequent visitor & commenter here.  Dick Jones is, as far as I can determine on cyberspace, a kindred soul: a poet musician who has served an apprenticeship to the Beats & also loves old-time blues.  His poetry is of a high quality—his language is precise without calling attention to the fact, his poetic thought & expression are clear, & he has an admirable understanding of poetic form in the most important sense—not as an ability to reproduce poems in various set forms, but as an ability to allow for organic shaping of poetic line, stanza & expression.  Asked for a brief writerly bio, Dick offered the following:

"Initially wooed by the First World War poets and then seduced by the Beats, Dick Jones has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of 15.  Published in a variety of magazines throughout the years of rambling. Amongst them are Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Snakeskin, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Ouroboros Review. Grand plans for the meisterwerk have been undermined constantly either by a Much Better Idea or a sort of Chekhovian inertia. So I have no prize collection to my name; I have masterminded no radical creative writing programmes in a cutting edge university department; I have edited no recherché poetry magazines with lower case titles.

I’m a male version of the playground mum, looking after three young kids and vacuuming the stairs while my partner goes out to work. For fun and profit, I play bass guitar, bouzouki and percussion in a from-Celtic-to-the-blues unplugged trio. "

Please check out Dick Jones’ set of three poems over at the Writers Talk blog—& so: on to the interview!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I self-identified as a writer one winter’s afternoon at the age of 11, on the completion of a short story that I was quite sure at the time was a small masterpiece. I was so impressed with it that I determined there and then to discard my ambition to become a space shuttle pilot and instead to become an author.

A little more realistically, I recognized in my mid-teens that, whatever was, in fact, to be my métier in life, I was unable to stop writing – that it was a compulsive activity that served needs at the deepest level of my being.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

My most recent poem arrived in bits while I was caught in traffic on the way to a hospital appointment. It was raining, not hard but persistently, and the windscreen wipers were on the setting whereby they only operated when there was a certain quantity of moisture on the screen. As I stared mindlessly at their patient, unhesitating response to the pocking of rain across the glass, I was struck by the notion of persistence in the face of certain failure. The confident sweep of the blades seemed to imply a calm assurance that a single 180-degree passage forward and back would eliminate the presence of water in one swift movement. But there it was again across the windscreen as the wipers rested horizontal, their task fulfilled. So back they swept...

And as they moved with undiminished energy each time, the first line of the poem arrived in one piece: ‘Sitting traffic-jammed in rain, the wipers’ all-effacing hand...’ The traffic was edging forward and although I had my notebook open on the passenger seat beside me I couldn’t scribble anything down so I pinned the line in place by repeating it out loud several times. Repetition established a sense of rhythm and propulsion and the increasing need for continuation towards an immediate conclusion and the initiation of the next line. At that point I had no clear idea of any unifying theme or intended direction to the emergent poem. But I knew that the hypnotic action of the wipers across the persistent reiteration of the raindrops had drawn up some current of creative thought, inchoate at that point but demanding content, form and structure.

By the time I parked the car I had the first stanza composed in my head and I scribbled it down immediately, relieved as I always am by the appearance of written words on a surface. Then, sitting in the grim waiting room for a good hour-and-a-half for my blood test, I wrote out the rest of the poem, my pen simply recording the arrival, spasmodic but persistent, of words, phrases and entire lines.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I have had poems published fitfully in journals during many years. Initially, this meant sharing cramped foolscap pages in floppy mags stenciled off duplicators in editors’ living rooms (my first at age 16), with occasional appearances in posher print mags via moveable type and offset litho. I was early online and in the mid ‘90s I thrilled to the sight of my name above a piece of deathless verse in one of the first online poetry journals (whose name, disgracefully, I now forget!)

I opened up the Patteran Pages within the legendary Salon Bloggers community in February 2003, posting poems from the start. The Salon Bloggers were, in the main, very articulate, very vocal liberals firing off flaming arrows in the direction of Dubya’s White House. So the company was good and the quality of writing excellent. I shared houseroom with several fine poets and the sharing of criticism and appreciation was enormously supportive and encouraging.

Finally exhausted by the rickety steam-punk technology that drove the blogging software (or more frequently didn’t), I bailed out in 2005 and decamped to Typepad. Shortly after (but unconnected with) my departure, Salon pulled the plugs on their blogging platform and the resultant diaspora took the Salonistas hither and yon. Those with whom I’m still in touch remain amongst my most cherished of comrades-in-blogs.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Not a bit. It remains the solitary, sometimes almost hermetic activity it’s always been for me. Beyond a cheerful and forbearing acceptance of its importance to me, my partner takes no interest in my writing. I’ve always written most productively either surrounded by noise and activity (provided I’m left on my own as a single, still point at the eye of the hurricane) or during the long, silent watches of the night. So I neither intrude on family time, nor does it intrude on mine. (As I write now, 6-year-old Maisie is playing, alternately, a harmonica and a penny whistle, both at volume; Rosie [7] is looking for a pair of pyjamas that I know are hanging off the back of a chair only feet away from her; and Reuben [8] is watching a DVD of the highlights of a Manchester United versus Juventus game).

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I was, briefly, a member of a local poetry group and I enjoyed and benefitted from the interaction with the other members. But I never really penetrated the sanctum sanctorum at the heart of the group and eventually I drifted away.

I have regular interactional contact with a number of bloggers, many of whom are also in constant communication with each other. This provides a sense of community – the more so in respect of those bloggers with whom I have had long-term relationships, or those with whom I share specific offline interests.

But, like Groucho, I’m not a natural joiner of clubs and the strange, paradoxical balance that is held between intimacy and distance within online relationships suits me well. That having been said, I have met several of my blogger friends and have found that in all cases the personal closeness and commonality of interest and priority have been reiterated face-to-face.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

These goals are simple and shameless. a.) I would like to expand my constituency of Patteran Pages readers so that, without losing any of the particularity of relationship that I enjoy now with my current readers, I might achieve what all writers, if they’re being honest, want to achieve: widespread communication. And b.) I would like a reputable and well-constituted poetry publishing house to bring out a book of my poetry.

But even if neither of these goals are achieved (and my efforts to propel myself with greater force towards both have met with no success so far), the writing will continue because it’s an imperative – a bit like breathing in and out!

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

It varies, but most of the time I’m working my way down the sax section from a Branford Marsalis soprano, through Charlie Parker alto and Andy Sheppard/Jan Gabarek tenor to a driving, throaty Gerry Mulligan-style baritone.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Adams County Makes the News - Council Leader #27

The Adams County Leader
Published Every Friday by the Council Publishing Company. 
Eighty-nine per cent of the stock of the above company
is owned by F.H. Michaelson.
F. H. Michaelson Editor and Manager

February 20, 1920

A few days ago, one of our neighbors mentioned to us that the street in front of our office seemed to be the town loafing place.  Guess he was right.  The high ground provides the first dry spot along the street and youngsters gather by the dozen to play marbles.  Then older folks gather to watch the children, and so forth and so on. 

A few days ago, some person brought a pair of boxing gloves and the street was turned into a gymnasium, the attendance being about as large as might be expected at an average auction sale.  As near as we could see there was no harm in the meeting except that the sidewalk was more of less blocked by onlookers and, as is always true in a street gathering, some roughnecks occasionally let go a bunch of language especially inappropriate in the presence of children.  However this may be, the point we wish to make is that street gatherings of little children do not disturb us in the least.  This being true, if they rasp the nerves of any other person it is up to such person to take such actions as he deems best.  We do not own the street.

August 13, 1920

Elsewhere in this issue is an ordinance concerning the operation of automobiles within the limits of the Village of Council.  The ordinance makes particular reference to the parking of cars and forbids driving with “cutouts” open.  It also forbids parking cars around the public square, Moser Avenue, or Illinois Avenue, or in front of the post office except as especially provided.  Auto users will do well to read the ordinance carefully. 

City officials have also asked us to call to mind that Ordinance No. 51 limits speed to twelve miles an hour within the town limits and forbids driving after dark without both front and rear lights.  We are authorized to state that the ordinances here mentioned are to be enforced without favor.  From what we can gather, violation will be about equivalent to saying: “Good morning, Judge, I didn’t realize I was really a law breaker.  Please excuse me while I step around the corner and borrow umpteen bones.”

August 13, 1920

The Dance given at the People’s Theatre on Tuesday night, at which the Shubert Jazz Orchestra provided music, drew a crowd that packed the hall to capacity.  Those who attended say that the music was good.  Maybe it was, but we herewith wish to enter protest.  We live less than a thousand miles from the hall and were sleeping when the first jazz blast rent the air.  During the past fifty or sixty years, the matter of dancing has been troublesome to us because we have a Methodist foot that wants to go to camp-meeting and another hoof that inclines to the cake-walk.  On Tuesday night, each time a new musical extravaganza started, we would awaken to find that one foot was kicking the bottom of our cradle.  To get relief, we changed sides and then both feet started jigging.  All in all, jazz music should be put under the ban as an intoxicant.  If continued long enough, it would even cause an Egyptian mummy to saunter forth and rattle its bones.

September 24, 1920 


To Our Many Friends and Patrons: We beg to announce that on and after October 1, we will discontinue selling merchandise on credit.  In other words, we will in the future conduct our business on a strictly cash basis.  We have given this matter serious consideration for some time and have concluded that by operating our business in this manner we can serve you more efficiently and can supply your needs in the lines we carry in a far more satisfactory manner than we could while operating under the credit system—which is now recognized the country over as the OBSOLETE METHOD OF MERCHANDISING.  The only exception to the above method will be for those living on the stage and rail lines, in which cases an itemized bill will accompany the order with the understanding that payment is to be made by return mail.
Very Sincerely Yours, Council Hardware and Implement Company

September 10,1920

The authorities of a Chicago hospital last week refused to permit of the burial of the body of a woman, or surrender to its father a six weeks’ old child because the husband and father was unable to pay the balance of seventy-five dollars on a hospital bill.  The husband was flatly told that the burial would not be permitted until the bill was paid.  To the average normal mind, conduct such as above defined is almost inconceivable, and there is something about it which causes one to be grateful that he lives in the country.
November 19, 1920


The effort of the members of the American Legion of this county and their friends to make possible the erection of a memorial building in honor of those who died in the service has been meeting with hearty encouragement on the part of some citizens and, as is always to be expected in matters of this kind, an occasional chilly reception.  In one or two instances soldiers who had been appointed to gather funds were told that the plan was “just a graft” – and in each case the soldier was such an excellent citizen that he permitted the incident to pass without committing an assault. 

This brings up the thought that throughout the nation and ever since the war closed, there has been apprehension, on the part of an element of society which worships exclusively at the throne of Mammon, that the soldiers might in some manner receive a part of the recognition that is their due.  A few months ago, learned U. S. senators stood in the halls of Congress and proclaimed that to grant returning soldiers even a decent part of the pay received during the war by common laborers would not only dim the glory of their patriotism, but would inflict an improper burden of taxation on the public.  Investigation recently determined that an eastern notable who was loudly opposing practical recognition of the service of our soldiers had gathered in $26,000,000 during the war, and at the time of his public speeches had claims against the government for $4,000,000 based on the “profit he would have made in case the war had continued as long as he had been led to believe it would.”  We mention this as but an illustration that considerable of our much-tooted “hundred percent Americanism” was based on a thousand per cent profit.  The case mentioned is not an isolated instance, but one of thousands which involve millions upon millions of ill-gotten wealth.  Under the circumstances it is not strange that in grabbing for wealth, a certain portion of society has utterly shut its eyes to a general fair deal for the soldiers.

October 29, 1920

Because it has been necessary that I keep at my daily work, I have been unable, as the republican nominee for sheriff, to visit the various parts of the county in the interests of my candidacy.  It is perhaps because I have not made a personal campaign that I have heard it rumored that I do not really care for the office.  It is for this reason I will state that if I did not desire the place I would not have filed for the office.  I believe that I am qualified to fill the position properly, and assure taxpayers that if I elected I will handle the work without employing a permanent deputy.

Respectfully, Vollie V. Zink

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

ENTROPY: Only a Word, Go Back to Sleep

[In this poem, L.E. Leone examines cosmological questions]

ENTROPY: Only a Word, Go Back to Sleep

It’s true that I am not an apple
tree, or wild geese or grass.  But if you
can’t see nature shining through my silly
surfaces, Sugar, that’s your failure
of imagination, not mine. Shaved, painted,
pierced, bikini-lined, I call myself
the Chicken Farmer and do not farm
chickens. Let me have my
eyes and big head, wrong as wind,
afraid as dawn, dangerous
as the storm that waters this
orchard, angry as the volcano
that made this island. Sad as fog,
which wrecks a small-boat fisherman, saving
the lives of at least two hundred fish.

L.E. Leone
© 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

"I Shall Be Released"

Happy Monday, folks.  Today is the wrap up of our Bob Dylan month here on Robert Frost’s Banjo, & I saved my biggest stretch for the last.

The song I’m covering, “I Shall Be Released,” dates from Dylan’s Basement Tapes days, & the original version to reach the public was not by Dylan at all, but the great cover version by The Band, with vocal by Richard Manuel from their 1968 album, Music from Big Pink.  Of course, one hesitates to mention Manuel’s cover in a post featuring my own very humble version!  Dylan himself released the song on his 1971 Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II; as Dylan fans know, despite the title this double album contained some previously unreleased material, including this song.

I played the song in G clawhammer style on my old Windsor banjo—the arrangement is extemporaneous & basic.  Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Old Time Holiday Train #4

A happy Sunday & a happy Boxing Day.  Although it was much delayed, it’s now time for the last run on the Old-Time Holiday Train, so let’s get on board with a couple of great tunes!

The Memphis Jug Band: K.C. Moan (1929)

Is there anything quite like jug band music?  A sound that hovers between the blues & hot jazz, with any number of other elements thrown in—& to top it off, a “homemade,” “do it yourself” aesthetic that can rival even the most punk of punk rock bands.  After all, by definition, jug bands use “found” instruments , starting with the jug itself, & continuing thru washboard bass, tissue & comb kazoo, bones, & even homemade guitars, mandolins & banjos.  Gus Cannon of Cannon’s Jug Stompers learned the banjo on an instrument made from a frying pan & a raccoon skin, & while Cannon played a more conventional instrument by the time he was a known musician, there are records of jug band musicians playing pie plate banjos & gourd guitars.

The Memphis Jug Band was a very loose confederation of musicians gathered around Will Shade, who sang, wrote songs, & played guitar & harmonica.  The group at various times included musicians who also had significant solo careers, such as Memphis Minnie & Casey Bill Weldon.  “K.C. Moan” is a wonderfully straightforward blues song that was later covered by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.

Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers: White House Blues (1926)

Speaking of a tune that mixes genres, we end this season’s holiday train tour with the “White House Blues.”  These days the “White House Blues” is considered a “bluegrass” or “old-time” tune, in the sense that it comes thru the Euro-American old-time tradition.  But structurally, “The White House Blues” is as much a “blues” as “K.C. Moan,” even if it isn’t given the syncopated inflection we generally associate with blues & other forms of African-American music.  It wouldn’t be hard to adapt the song to that kind of treatment, however, especially given the underlying 12-bar blues structure.

“The White House Blues” is itself an adaptation of an earlier song, “The Battleship of Maine.”  The latter is a satirical song of Spanish-American War vintage, & it provided the melody for its equally topical descendant.  For those who are interested, the New Lost City Ramblers covered “The Battleship of Maine,” & you can hear a live version of that here.

Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers were a popular string band of the 1920s, & their music certainly has an eduring appeal.  Poole played banjo & developed a three-finger picking style that provided rhythmic drive to the band.  By the way, in banjo (& guitar) terms “three-finger” means “thumb, index & middle fingers”—despite what your 1st grade teacher told you about the “thumb not being a finger.”  Although modern bluegrass banjoists use three-finger patterns based on those developed by Earl Scruggs, Poole’s patterns were less syncopated.

Hope you enjoy “The White House Blues!”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Silent Night

Christmas Day is passing—even here in the western U.S., the winter sun is low in a gray blue sky.  I must say this has been the most unusual Christmas season I can remember, but I also feel a strange peace on this Christmas afternoon, & I thought I’d share that by sharing a piece I’ve posted each year during this season since Robert Frost’s Banjo began.

It’s “Silent Night” played “classical style” (essentially like guitar fingerpicking) on a 5-string banjo.  I made this recording a few years ago, & no doubt I could play it better now, but I was satisfied with the take when I recorded it, & still don’t have any real objections to the performance—perhaps a few quibbles, but that’s it.

I will be back with a post tomorrow, most likely the final installment of the Old-Time Holiday Train

All the blessings of the season to you, dear readers!

Photo: The christmas song Stille Nacht, autograph (ca. 1860) by Franz Xaver Gruber (1787–1863)

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Dance of the Reed Flutes

Happy Christmas Eve to those celebrating the holiday, & a happy Friday to all.  It’s time for our Alice in Wonder Band song of the month; I probably should point out that this is the penultimate song in the series, which will wrap up in January. 

The last Alice in Wonder Band show ever was a Christmas show at the Alpine Playhouse in McCall in December 2004.  At this point, the band had five members: Art Troutner, who played oboe & mandolin; Bob George, who played clarinet, mandolin & guitar; Deadre Chase, the singer; Eberle Umbach, who at this point was playing flute, melodica, glockenspiel, & occasionally throwing in something wild like the lap steel; & yours truly,  playing guitar, baritone uke & plectrum banjo. 

I’m happy to say we went out on a high note: the show was one of our best, & I think a lot of this was thanks to some inspired arranging by Eberle; & among all her good arrangements for the show, none surpassed her distillation of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker into a piece for a quintet.  In case you’re curious, the original score calls for an orchestra with 18 distinct instruments, as follows:

  • Flutes (4)
  • Oboes (2)
  • English Horn
  • Clarinets (2)
  • Bass Clarinet
  • Bassoons (2)
  • French Horns (4)
  • Trumpet
  • Tenor Trombone
  • Bass Trombone
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Cymbals
  • Violins (two sections of course, which could be up to 32 players)
  • Violas (as many as 12)
  • Cellos (as many as 10)
  • Double Bass (as many as 8)

She managed to pare this down to the following:

  • 1 flute
  • 1 oboe
  • 1 clarinet
  • 1 voice
  • 1 electric guitar

I don’t recall now exactly how the parts were absorbed—I do know that my guitar part drew heavily from the cello music. 

I hope you enjoy the music—it was a lot of fun to play!—& that you have a joyous holiday season.  Oh, by the way: Robert Frost’s Banjo will be on the air tomorrow with the final installment of the Old-Time Holiday Train series!

Note: All images in the video are in the public domain except the intial photo of the Nutcracker.  This photo, entitled "Nußknacker aus Seiffen," is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported by Bernd Reuschenberg
The photo at the top of the post is from the original production of The Nutcracker. Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, 1892.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O Little Town of Bethlehem

[I'd planned to post something about The Spring Ghazals today, but decided instead to switch into full holiday mode with the following re-post.  Also: please note that Writers Talk will return next Thursday with Dick Jones of Patteran Pages]

Today’s musical offering for Christmas Eve is one of my favorites among the traditional carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  The melody has so much peace & gentleness to impart, & I’ve played it here on one of my old favorite instruments, a koa Lanikai baritone ukulele.  I don’t play the baritone uke much anymore, but it’s hard to beat for a certain soft & melodic sound, with just enough low(ish) end to create some harmony.

This tune is very popular of course, & it seems evocative too.  But as I was playing it, I began meditating on what, exactly, this song does evoke.  What is the “little town of Bethlehem” we picture when we hear this melody?  For those of us brought up in a Christian tradition, even if we no longer subscribe to the faith’s beliefs, we may well see an image of a Nativity scene divorced from any historical context.

But Bethlehem is a real place, a city on the West Bank in Israel, with a population divided between the Jewish, Christian & Islamic faiths (with a Muslim majority in the population).  This is an area of the world that could well use tranquility & peace, but the conflicts there are so deeply rooted that they sometimes seem impossible to resolve.  The territory is essentially mythic for three major religions & beyond that, conflicting historical claims spring from various wars fought over thousands of years.  By the 20th century, Bethlehem was part of the British Mandate of Palestine & was included in the state of Israel by the United Nations resolution in 1947.  The city is the site of Rachel’s Tomb, a very holy site in the Jewish faith; it also is considered the birthplace of King David, as well as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. 

One organization that has a very hands-on approach to resolving these conflicts is Ukuleles for Peace, an organization whose mission is “reating opportunities for Jewish and Arab children to meet & become involved with one another in their daily lives."  One way the organization does this is by providing the kids with ukes so they can play music together.  Please check them out.  Is this the whole answer to the problems in that region?  Of course not; but it strikes me as the sort of grassroots movement that could have a real impact, & perhaps spread to other areas.

All the images in the slideshow are from Wiki Commons, & all are in the public domain.  They show Bethlehem & its inhabitants from the 19th thru early 20th centuries.  Hope you enjoy the music.

Pic at the top of the post:
Main entrance into Bethlehem from Jerusalem, 2005
(photo released into the public domain by Wikipedia user Zero0000)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"In the Bleak Midwinter"

Happy Wednesday, folks.  In honor of the recent solstice event, & also with hope of imparting some Christmas spirit both to Robert Frost’s Banjo & to myself, a re-post of sorts: a video of yours truly playing a fingerstyle guitar arrangement of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” Holst’s lovely setting for Christina Rosetti’s poem (you can read the poem here, at WikiSource.)

I recorded the song & made the video last December when it was originally posted on this blog.  The arrangement (not original, but by Doug Sparling, with some minor variations by yours truly) is for guitar in the DADGAD tuning—so called because those are the notes of the open strings, as opposed to EADGBE in standard tuning.  The DADGAD tuning is particularly used by fingerstyle guitarists exploring British Isles folk music—the open strings taken as a whole are a “suspended chord”—one that is neither major nor minor, but hovering somewhere in between.  It’s a lovely tuning, & one that loves to have open strings ringing.  I played it on my well-loved old Washburn, which is a sweet fingerstyle instrument.

Hope the holiday season has been good to you, & that you enjoy the music.  There’ll be one more holiday tune—from the Alice in Wonder Band archives—on Friday!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Who’s in the Audience?

Anyone’s who’s ever performed under stage lights knows: the audience is a group of mostly figures, their features indistinct, if visible at all.  & yet as performing artists, we thrive on this group of unseen people—why?  Energy: although we can’t see the audience except for a few faces in the front rows, we can feel them.  Audiences give something to the performer: energy, vitality, inspiration.  Almost without exception, an integral part of a good performance is a good audience.

How does this idea of audience energy pertain to writers?  After all, theater, music & dance are “performing arts”—writing poetry & fiction—the actual creative acts—this is almost always done in isolation—we don’t invite our friends to watch us while we type out words!

But for me, audience has always been a crucial part of the writing process.  However, for the longest time, I focused exclusively on those few faces I could see past the stage lights, not on the figures beyond them who were faceless shapes.  Yes, I’ve always written with an audience in mind, but an audience made up of a discrete number of people—a half dozen, perhaps a dozen at most.  & indeed, I received energy, vitality & inspiration from that audience.

How is this relevant to publishing in general & to the process of publishing The Spring Ghazals in particular?  The Spring Ghazals actually began with a series of poems addressed to an old friend—I say “friend,” because I don’t know a word to better define what has been a complex & perhaps unique relationship.  In any case, the poems that now appear in the book as the “Kitchen Poems” section began as a direct address to her, tho they were shared with a handful of other people as well—other distinct faces in the audience. 

This was before Robert Frost’s Banjo.  With one exception, a poem which this friend posted on her blog—a once popular site that’s no longer extant as she’s moved on to different things—the “Kitchen Poems” had a very small audience.

I’ve generally made myself comfortable with that—I was content circulating poems in a circle of other writers & creative people while taking an MFA—this included publishing in journals run by friends & acquaintances; I was content giving readings & publishing in a punk rock ‘zine while in San Francisco.  I used to say I had a very 16th century view of publishing—that I wrote poems for an intimate circle—those few recognizable faces in the first rows.

But at a certain point, I realized that if I were to keep writing now, in my middle-aged return to poetry, I needed a larger sense of audience.  First there was the Robert Frost Banjo blog—the prose poems in the “Cloudland” section of the book were written for the blog long before I even knew a book was in the offing.  Then the “Ghazals” themselves were written for the blog in the spring of 2009, & as the sequence grew, I began to see a “book” taking shape.

But all the time I was posting these poems on a blog with a growing readership, to be read & commented on by people I scarcely knew, I was also writing the poems for the same intimate circle as always; & I was writing them as much for my old friend as ever, tho at that point we were no longer in touch….

Here’s the fact of the matter: at a certain point I realized that it’s necessary to draw energy & inspiration from the audience as a whole, not just from those few faces you can see.  If what we’re giving in art is a mode of communication, & this seems true whether we’re using words or notes on a guitar or dance gestures or brush strokes, then at some point we have to decide whether we really want to circumscribe that communication.  If I’m onstage playing music & I decide to somehow restrict my communication to the few people I can actually see in the front row, then I won’t give a good performance—it’s all about “giving” & “receiving.”  But yes, I do focus on a few faces I recognize, but I let them take me to the rest of the audience—the indistinct figures in the further rows.

In the writing game, we call that publishing.

On Thursday: “What Have You Published?”

Photo of the Alice in Wonder Band during an ovation at the Alpine Playhouse by Tim Hohs

Monday, December 20, 2010

From a Buick 6

A happy Monday to you all.  The Monday Morning Blues continues today with the third selection in our Bob Dylan December.

Today, I’m posting a cover of “From a Buick 6,” again from the great Highway 61 Revisited album.  This song certainly has appeal to a blues musician—I think it’s one of Dylan’s most succesful transformations of the old time blues feel into an updated lyrical presentation & (in his case) electric sound.  Because I wanted a bit of that raw sound in my version, I used the Regal resonator guitar—the metal body can be easily coaxed into a natural distortion that seems just the ticket for this song.  The guitar is tuned to drop D—for those non-guitarists out there, that means the lowest sounding string is tuned down to a D rather than an E as in in standard tuning.  The guitar is capoed, so the actual key is Eb.

Please check in on Friday, Christmas Eve, for a seasonal tune from the Alice in Wonder Band archives.  & next Monday will wrap up our Dylan feature!

Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Old Time Holiday Train #3

Hello, folks—the train’s running behind time this morning, which is more than a little appropriate to the two songs.  Fortunately, no actual wreck seems imminent.  Also: apologies to aficionados of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, who will see that today’s pairing comes straight off the first “Ballads” record of his compilation.  The pairing of “Engine 143” & “Kassie Jones” was just too good to pass up.

Carter Family: Engine 143 (1929)

The Carter Family from southwestern Virginia have had a profound impact on U.S. popular music, from country & folk to gospel & even rock (rockabilly in particular).  Perhaps the greatest single influence on future musical styles came from the guitar-playing of Mother Maybelle Carter.

In the 1920s the guitar was still primarily a rhythm instrument.  Even if we look at the great blues guitarists of that time, we don’t hear much in the way of “lead” playing such as we’d think of the thing nowadays.  The rhythmic backgrounds could be quite intricate—they could be contrapuntal, both in terms of harmonic lines & actual rhythm—but they didn’t tend to be break out into “melody.”  At least in terms of what would later become country music, Maybelle Carter’s playing changed this, as she perfected a style that incorporated melody with rhythmic playing.  This style is called “Carter picking” or “Carter scratch” in her honor. 

Although most folks nowadays play Carter style using a flatpick, Maybelle Carter played with a thumbpick & a fingerpick on her index finger—in this, her style was closely related to what is called “two-finger” banjo picking (she also played banjo, in fact, which she learned from her mother).  There has been some controversy as to how much influence African American musician Lesley Riddle had on her playing, but her connection to the banjo means at the very least that her innovative guitar style had some deep roots. 

Furry Lewis: Kassie Jones, parts 1 & 2 (1928)

Furry Lewis was, quite simply, an amazing singer & fingerstyle guitar player, equally adept at playing music from ragtime to blues.  His roots go way back.  He was born some time in the 1890s—the exact date is uncertain, as he gave various dates over the course of his life—& he had some success as a traveling musician in the ‘teens & early 1920s.  But apparently with an eye on some financial stability, Lewis took a job as a Memphis city street sweeper for his main source of income—a position he held from 1922 until he retired in 1966.  Fortunately for us, he had a brief but fruitful stint making records for Vocalion & Victor in 1927 & 1928; he might have even continued as a recording artist, but the Great Depression had a major impact on the recording industry in general, & so-called “race records” in particular.

So again, as with a number of artists, Lewis was re-discovered in part because of Smith’s Anthology, as well as by the interest in his 78 sides from within the 1950s & 60s folk movement.  He had a second musical career in his retirement that included recordings & a number of live appearances—for instance, opening for the Rolling Stones & appearing on Johnny Carson! 

Lewis played an old-style form of fingerpicking that in its own way is also closely related to banjo playing.  In fact, it would be hard to over-state the influence of the banjo on all forms of old-time music, even the blues where the banjo itself rarely was featured.

You’ll notice that Kassie Jones in appears in a part one & a part two.  The reason for this is actually quite simple.  The standard size ’78 rpm record was 10 inches, & this record held approximately three minutes per side.  If a song was longer than three minutes, there was a part one & a part two—another well known example is Robert Wilkins’ great blues song “Rolling Stone.” 


Friday, December 17, 2010

The Spring Ghazals on Robert Frost's Banjo

Happy Friday to you all!  This morning we have a bit of a poetic excursion planned, & in doing so, I’m introducing a new feature to Robert Frost’s Banjo—one I hope you’ll enjoy & one that I hope will be helpful to me: the proverbial “win-win” situation.

As some of you know, I started a blog dedicated to my collection of poetry, The Spring Ghazals.  In case you’re not familiar with this, The Spring Ghazals is made up of poems I wrote between May 2008 & February 2010.  The poems are concerned with love & loss & memory & time, & in a fragmented & lyric sense of the word, describe a narrative arc. 

I decided recently, however, that the dedicated blog wasn’t really spreading the word about the book in the way I’d hoped.  As a result, I decided to close the shutters on that blog & try to spread the word here in hopes that the wider readership would result in more people being interested in & ultimately purchasing the book.  Speaking of which: The Spring Ghazals is available at Lulu, as well as on Amazon & Amazon UK.

As a “kick-off” to this new series, which will appear at irregular but frequent intervals (at least weekly) during the month of December, & then will probably move to its own weekly day in January, I thought I’d post a virtual reading of one of the poems, complete with video slideshow.  This poem, “Fondue,” comes from “The Kitchen Poems” section of the book, seven poems all based on some type of food.  

Future posts will include discussion topics about the book & self-publishing; some background about the composition of the poems; (more) virtual readings; a series called Music Theory for Poets; any noteworthy book news& more.  Hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Writers Talk with Peadar O'Donoghue

It’s a real pleasure to introduce today’s Writers Talk interview subject, Peadar O’Donoghue.  When asked for a brief biography, Peadar wrote: “I’m an Irish poet photographer and editor of The Poetry Bus Magazine. I’ve been published in magazines including The SHOp, Revival, Village, The Dubliner, Magma, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, and online (!) in Ink Sweat And Tears.” 

I’d point out in addition that Mr O’Donoghue is the the proprietor of the always entertaining & often raucuous Totalfeckineejit blog where you can find his poetry, photographs & musings on the meaning of existence—or lack thereof.  This blog gave rise to the popular Poetry Bus series which has spurred creative work from a number of bloggers.  The series eventually took 3-D form in The Poetry Bus Magazine, an excellent publication, which you can purchase here.

Please be sure to check out three poems by Mr O’Donoghue on the Writers Talk blog.  & now: Here’s Peadar!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I don’t think I have yet. I think I am constantly changing, evolving, getting older (obviously), thinking more, gaining knowledge, yet paradoxically understanding  less. I have no set idea of myself as a human being, let alone as a writer. Maybe I was one, maybe I could have been one, maybe I’m yet to be one, maybe I never will be, but I do know I’d quite like to keep tying to be one! I started late and am beginning to feel a sense of running out of time.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.
It’s always the same scenario and always at the keyboard. Pen ,or pencil, and paper (I used to have special pens and special notebooks) were once  all I could use, but now it’s exclusively the computer and I’ve got fairly speedy with one finger!  For me writing is the (temporary) resolution of an internal conflict.  I have something , Im not sure what it is, it’s not quite an anger, a hurt, an emotion, a loss, a hunger, an energy, but it  is buried deep inside and is the catalyst of everything I write. Whether it be a poem about love, or a drunken brawl, or the moon, it all comes from the same place. It starts as a mood, becomes feeling then that I have to write, most times drink is involved and music, (I find contemporary music a great inspiration) often it’s in the early hours of the morning, it’s slightly surreal and usually pleasurable no matter how horrible the poem may be. I don’t think I’ve ever written sober, not even answering these questions. I 100% don’t recommend it though. The poem will be written quickly, usually five, ten, up to twenty minutes at the most and I  rarely re-write.  I feel that the magic is in the rawness, a rough diamond, polished pieces are not my style.I’ve tried a few times and the whole thing falls apart. I’m not too hung up on form or style or punctuation or even spelling, within reason of course.  Some writers are alchemists, I’m just a miner, I keep digging mainly coal to keep the fires burning,but if the odd piece of gold turns up now and again then I’m happy!

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I rarely submit poems and if I do it’s usually either to The SHOp a (County) Cork based magazine here in Ireland or to Revival in Limerick. The SHOp has been a huge help to me, an encouragement and an inspiration. It’s my favourite magazine.  I don’t really consider anything to be properly published unless it’s in a physical magazine or a book. I’m not a fan of ezines, there’s no romance about them, no magic, no tactile organic earthiness to them, they are cold and clinical.  Ask me again next week though, and I might say I love them!  But for now I think paper magazines have a personality that is often greater than the sum their parts, online mags no matter how good (and there are some splendid ones) are invariably the opposite.  Electronic books are now being foisted on us too as they will make more money. I say fuck money, give me a book that I can keep on the shelf with a book mark in, that can gather dust, that I can admire as an object with a beautiful cover, that I can flick to a certain page and back again instantly with the skin of my hand on a dead ( but replenishable) tree, that I can smell and touch and grow old with. I can even rip it up or burn it if I hate it!  If I got to the stage where someone wanted to publish a collection of my poetry but only as a download, I’d be delighted, but bitterly disappointed too.I know the numbers game but I’d rather ten people had my book on their shelves than a hundred downloads.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

That’s a tough question.  Collette, my wife, is a good critic and supporter, she takes an interest without being too interested! If she likes something, she’ll let me know, but she wouldn’t pretend and she is really pleased when I get things published. Other people (relatives) have virtually no interest in my writing or my magazine. If anything it irks them. I don’t know why. I don’t tell anyone else that I write, it’s not something I like to be known really, I like to keep it quiet. I guess overall it has a negative effect.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I don’t belong to a real group of writers but through the internet I have met other writers. I think the internet is a fantastic tool for this. The Poetry Bus (The Magazine as well as the weekly task) would be nothing without the internet. There is a real community out there that help and support and promote and congratulate/ commiserate with, each other. I’d like to think I’m part of that community. We all get on great, maybe because we never actually meet! I’m joking!

Blogging itself is addictive, exhausting , wasteful, wonderful, affirming, insecurity inducing, bragging and brash, I’m ambivalent about it, but the love far outweighs the hate! It’s a wonderful tool for the ‘poet’up in his lonely garret. There is a huge groundswell in the new online poetry world and spoken events here in Ireland, it has the potential to bcome a revolution. The establishment have the ball and won’t let us play. For years people have been trying to get a touch of the ball and join in. That’s only for a chosen few. So now we are saying ‘Feck it’ we’re getting our own ball and everybody can play.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I’d love to dig up a few more lumps of gold, maybe have a book of them. I’m not terribly ambitious I’d also love The Poetry Bus Magazine to survive (financially) and thrive (artistically)

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

Without doubt, a second hand electric guitar!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Adams County Makes the News - Council Leader #26

The Adams County Leader
Published Every Friday by the Council Publishing Company. 
Eighty-nine per cent of the stock of the above company
is owned by F.H. Michaelson.
F. H. Michaelson Editor and Manager

September 5, 1919

As a result of the disastrous fire season this summer, and as further precaution against the starting of other fires, the secretary of agriculture has for the month of September extended a regulation, heretofore applying only in California, making it unlawful to build a camp fire in the national forests of Idaho and Washington without a permit from a forest officer.  Violation of the order subjects an offender to a fine of up to $5,000 or ten months in a tomb of reflection, or both.

September 5, 1919

On Sunday a local fisherman caught a carp in the Weiser River below town, probably the first fish of that species ever taken up from the river in these parts.  It is presumed that the water scarcity of the lower country has caused the carp to follow the riverbed upwards in the hope of finding a wet spot; or, mayhap, the one caught had been trailing Sunday’s excursion train with intent to steal bait from the amateur anglers thereon.

July 4, 1919

While fishing in the Weiser River just below town last Sunday, Pat Adams caught a salmon trout that weighed eight pounds, the biggest reported this season.  He used light tackle and spent about an hour at the task of landing the beauty.  While the job was a good one, it was really rather mean of Pat because he knew that the publisher of this prevaricator was wading the river from Fruitvale down in order to get that fish cornered near the bridge so we would not need to carry it all the way.  Just when we had the trout hungry and tired, Pat dropped down to the bridge and grabbed it on a fly hook.

December 19, 1919

There will be a school bond election at Council tomorrow, Saturday, afternoon.  It is up to the people of District No. 25 to DO SOMETHING.  What are you going to do?

Since practically all citizens are familiar with the unmodern condition of Council school buildings and their inadequacy to the community’s present and prospective needs, we venture into no discussion of the subject farther than to suggest that each citizen take an interest in the election at least to the extent of voting his, or her, convictions.  We have sufficient faith in the intelligence and intent of our neighbors to believe that their combined judgment, whatever individual preference may be, will be sound if an approximately full vote is recorded. 

That Council must, in justice to itself, improve the physical facilities of its schools goes without saying.  We suggest that if there are persons who are in doubt as to the merit of the plans proposed, they go direct to the office of the Clerk of the Board and ask to see the plans and specifications.  Any conclusion based upon random street rumor may later prove to have been poorly founded.  Hence, neighbor, if you are willing to assist in providing adequate school quarters for your children, get out and record your convictions.  If you consider school equipment a needless luxury, you will be privileged to vote in the negative.

March 21, 1919

I am going to recount an incident that occurred here more than twenty years ago, and I trust it will tend to make those who criticize our roads and transportation facilities more appreciative and contented with what we now have.

In the good old days of long ago, before the advent of the railroad, we were under the necessity of transporting all our goods and machinery form Weiser by wagon, a distance of sixty miles; and such roads!  No bridges, no grading, and in the spring, no bottom to any of it.  Always at about this time of year, it became the painful duty of someone to go after a load of freight; and you can imagine what kind of sport it would be.

The time of which I speak was an exceedingly rainy year, and in March the roads were in such condition as would mire a “saddle blanket.”  It was while this state of affairs was on that Frank Shelton, now at Bear, Idaho, pulled into the Valley.  Frank was a teamster and freighter, and a good one; and although he had no load, he had nevertheless dragged the axle all the way from Weiser.  His opinion of the roads registered zero, and he decided to express himself, and further stated that there was no team of four horses in the Valley that could pull one ton without getting stuck and requiring assistance to get out of the thousand and one mud holes. 

This notorious explosion of Frank’s was made in the one little store that Council then boasted of, owned by John O. Peters and Isaac McMahan.  The official freighter for Peters & McMahan was Olaf Sorenson, who was known as the best teamster in the country, and who owned a four-horse team that would pull anything loose at one end.  Peters stated that he was satisfied that Sorenson could bring a ton through; Shelton thought differently and said he would bet one hundred dollars that no four-horse team could do it.  Peters’ faith in Sorenson was such that he at once “plunked down” the one hundred dollars and the bet was on. 

Next day they started for Weiser—Isaac McCMahan, Olaf Sorenson, Frank Shelton and a few others, to see the fun.  Shelton insisted that the lines be taken from Sorenson and given to McCMahan, although McCMahan was unacquainted with the team, but it was finally arranged that he would drive.  Now, “Mack” was to pull one ton from Weiser to Council and was not to take more than three pulls in any one place.  Well, you should have seen the fun!  If ever a team covered itself with glory, it was on this occasion.  The roads were almost impassable; time and again both axles were dragging in mud and it would look like it was all off; but after three days of heart-breaking work “Mack” made it thorough and won the bet.  I doubt if any other team in the county could have done it.

Such were the conditions then.  Compare them to those of today.  Nevertheless, we all had good times—going to dances and spelling schools—and did not think much of it.

M. P. Gifford

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


[L.E. Leone herein examines questions of travel]

Going Home

The road was washed out
The road looped around
Branches in the road
The road was roadblocked
Narrow, land-slided away
Dropped off, climbed straight up

The road was familiar
The road was brand new, paved
Dirt road, moose in the road
The road just ended
The road went on and on and on
I was not on the road

L.E. Leone
© 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

“Visions of Johanna”

It’s time for another Musical Monday on Robert Frost’s Banjo, & that means another Bob Dylan cover—I’m featuring Dylan songs this month on Monday mornings.

I’ve always had the highest admiration for Dylan’s 1966 release, Blonde on Blonde.  Musically & lyrically, it’s a high achievement, & has been justifiably praised as one of the best rock albums ever released.  Dylan himself likes the album—according to journalist Jules Siegel, who was present when Dylan first listened to the initial pressing, Dylan exclaimed, "Now that is religious music! That is religious carnival music. I just got that real old-time religious carnival sound there, didn't I?" 

Obviously, Blonde on Blonde, like its precursor, Highway 61 Revisited, is of great interest to anyone who likes blues music, since Dylan performed a masterful transformation of the blues in the music on both albums.  But today’s song is one of the least blues-based numbers on Blonde on Blonde.  Interestingly, Dylan proclaimed it his favorite song on the album.  I’ve always loved “Visions of Johanna.”  There’s something stark & haunted & true about the song, even when the lyrics occasionally seem mean-spirited, as in parts of the “museum” verse.

I’m playing slide style on my Gold Tone dobro, tuned as always to an open D chord; I did capo this one, so the actual key is Eb.  Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Photo of the Week 12/12/10

Old Farmhouse in Snowstorm
Indian Valley, Idaho
Saturday, December 11th

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Old Time Holiday Train #2

Happy Saturday, folks!  The Old Time Holiday train is pulling into the station (just a bit behind time) with two more great tunes for your enjoyment.

Critic Greil Marcus wrote about Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music as portraying the “weird old America.”  Today’s two examples are definitely from that same place, tho neither song is found on the Anthology (Dock Boggs, who performs “Danville Girl” is found on two songs on Smith’s magnum folk opus, however). 

In old-time music, we often hear about “modal” songs—songs that are built less on the harmonic structure of chord changes & more on the use of a certain scale.  In particular the modal songs tend to use either a variation of the minor scale called the “Dorian mode” (what Pete Seeger called “mountain minor” in reference to a banjo tuning used for playing in this mode) & the “Mixolydian mode,” which is a more or less major scale with one tone altered.  If you have a piano, you can hear an example of the Dorian mode by starting on a D note & playing all the white notes in ascending order until you reach the next D; you can hear an example of the Mixolydian mode by starting on a G note & then playing all the white notes in ascending order until you reach the next G.

What may not be quite as well known is that the blues also ventured into modal territory, particularly in the Mississippi Delta & environs, & particularly in the hands of slide guitar players.  While we tend to think of blues songs having a very defined chord structure (the “12 bar blues”), in fact a fair number of early blues songs relied much less on those changes & only hinted at them.  On to the songs themselves!

Dock Boggs: Danville Blues (1927)

Dock Boggs was an extraordinary banjoist & singer who made some records for Brunswick back in the 1920s.  He sang with a raw emotion & urgency that really seems to come from some weird old world, & his style of 3-finger banjo picking was intricate & beautiful.  As with many of the old-timers, Boggs used banjo tunings that accomodated his music’s modal character.  For “Danville Girl,” he tuned the banjo to #fDGAD, a series of open string notes that allow him to hover between major & minor modes.  If you know the song “Danville Girl” from its later major chord incarnations, you won’t even recognize this version. 

King Solomon Hill: The Gone Dead Train (1932)

Not very much is known about King Solomon Hill.  He was born Joe Holmes in 1897 (at least that’s generally accepted, tho it’s not certain), & took his later stage name from his address in Mississippi: King Solomon Hill Baptist Church.  We do know that his playing was memorable & powerful, tho unfortunately he left behind only 8 tracks (a total of six songs, with two takes each of “Whoopee Blues” & “Down on Bended Knee”); we do know that the tracks were recorded for Paramount in Grafton, WI in 1932. 

Hill played slide style guitar & favored the open D tuning (in other words, the 6 strings of the guitar, when unfretted, will sound a D major chord).  Because of the way open tunings typically work on a guitar, however, it’s pretty easy to make the sound drift between major & minor in true bluesy fashion.  As far as the guitar part goes, Hill essentially stays on the D chord throughout, & any hints at chord changes come thru in the vocal & chord fragment riffs.

You may be interested to know that King Solomon Hill used a cow bone as a slide!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Landscape

Tout était comme dans une image enfantine
Robert Desnos

it was all as if underwater: indigo
              white white sky the coralline
sagebrush spiky with hoarfrost a copy of
Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment un-
opened on a maple nightstand
a chrome guitar’s rattle &
whine behind a glass door
              a green tinsel “Happy
Holidays” banner strung between streetlights

you can never set foot in the same room twice
a sea-change
              the implacably lonesome Sonoma
coast March 1988 a Winston cigarette in Virginia’s
Valentine’s Day rain 1986
              the creamsicle sunlight in
Malibu May 2000
today’s pale headlights at noon a
sea-change a
              bass clarinet intoning “Full
Fathom Five” meditative but stolid
hope against hope
                      6 of one
will you go home for Xmas
will you go
will you go home

plastic dinosaurs an overdue
credit card statement you placed a
red leather bookmark between the pages of
The Complete Lewis Carroll &
forgot it
              a naked cottonwood a silver
hay tarp like coming awake unsure where you are

Jack Hayes
© 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Writers Talk with Tess Kincaid (aka "Willow")

Tess Kincaid aka “Willow” is a self-proclaimed magpie, poet, Hoosier by birth, who lives in small town Ohio at Willow Manor, a ramshackle limestone house on the banks of the Scioto River, with her husband and resident ghosts. She stumbled into the blogosphere on a whim one gray February day and her life hasn’t been the same since.  Feel free to stop by and pay her a visit at Life at Willow Manor.  

I'd just like to add that if you want to put together a successful blog, Life at Willow Manor would be a great model to use.  Tess has assembled a blog that is always diverting to read & is always a visual pleasure as well.  I had the pleasure of meeting Tess last spring during a cross-country road trip, & I must say that the good spirit found in her blog presentation is also abundantly there when you meet her in person.  Finally, please don't forget to check out the Writers Talk blog, where you'll find a set of three poems by Ms Kincaid!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

Poetry has always been an integral part of me.  My earliest memories are of my grandmother reading the delightful Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley.  As a precocious colt-legged girl, I adored memorizing little pieces for “show and tell”.  Fascinated with the rhythm and textures of words, I read poetry aloud to a captive audience, my youngest sister and her stuffed animals.  It became a delicious habit, which I imposed on my closest friends, and later, my husband and children.  It wasn’t until a year or so ago, waking up one day in an empty nest, that I began to write my own poetic tools of torture. Only in recent months has it occurred to me, that I am, indeed, a poet; a curious, sadistic notion.

Describe your creative process.

I am a collector, a magpie at heart.  I keep several notebooks handy to jot down words and phrases that tickle my fancy.  Sometimes an entire poem will come to me in that wonderful semi-lucent space, just before waking, and other times the process is like digging a trench.  Most of my inspiration comes from my macro views of the mundane.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process?

Since I am a fairly new writer, I am currently sending my first chapbook manuscript out for publication, a process which I’ve found is not for the faint of heart.  It is, however, a huge encouragement to know hundreds are currently reading my poetry posted via my blog, Life at Willow Manor.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

My husband and adult children have been my personal cheerleaders, but many of my friends and extended family don’t really “get” me, as a poet. I’ve learned to skirt the subject, if I throw out the word “poetry” and it lands like a dead fish on the coffee table.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to?

It’s exciting to be part of a virtual “Bloomsbury” community of talented poets and writers. The immediate feedback and rapport is tremendously supportive. Last February, I started a creative writing group blog, Magpie Tales, which has been the impetus for much of my writing. 

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

My current goal is to procure a publisher for my poetry.  I also have a rough outline for an autobiographical novel, actually more biography than novel, since truth is often stranger than fiction.

Bonus question:  If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

A button accordion, since my writing is small and quirky.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Highway 61 Revisited

Happy Wednesday!  Given that you’ve all made it to mid-week, you probably don’t want to return to Monday, do you?  But that’s just what we’re doing here today, as we have the Wednesday edition of the Monday Morning Blues!

I had intended for my musical outings this month to be quite different.  In the past I used to do some chord solos on the uke, both the tenor & the baritone. A “chord solo” for those who don’t know is a way of playing the song’s melody using chords, so there’s also harmony underneath the melodic line.  But things have been crazy at so many levels here at Robert Frost’s Banjo central, & when I sat down to record on Sunday, I found that my uke chops are really rusty.  Putting together the series I planned would have required extra practice time I just don’t have.

So, back to the guitar.  Since I’ve been on a performance sabbatical the last couple of months I’ve experimented with taking my music in some different directions (as witness the selections in November).  One direction is the music of Bob Dylan, & I’ll be featuring his songs on the Monday Morning Blues the rest of the month.

The song “Highway 61 Revisited" comes from from Dylan’s 1965 album of the same name—& of course, the “Highway 61” of the title is the “Blues Highway”—U.S. 61 that runs from New Orleans, Louisiana up thru the Mississippi Delta region, eventually coming to an end in Wyoming, Minnesota.   Dylan said of the Highway 61 Revisited album:

“I'm not gonna be able to make a record better than that one... Highway 61 is just too good. There's a lot of stuff on there that I would listen to."
(taken from Wikipedia)

Obviously, Bob Dylan songs aren’t going to be “seasonal,” but I suspect a fair number of people would like a break from the ubiquitous holiday soundtrack!  Hope you enjoy the song.