Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where I’m At #57

Or is that #93? Or #12 & 35? Who knows, & who’s counting!

Did you miss me? Indeed, I had a fatiguing week last week—will spare you the details, but by the time Saturday morning came around, there was no question of an outing for photographs or much of anything else—I was flatout exhausted. Having taken it very easy the past few days, I’m beginning to feel human again.

So Wednesday finds me without a Rose City post to offer, just as Sunday found me without a photo of the week. Thank goodness for my wonderful poets in residence Carmen Leone & Barbie Angell, as they’re really keeping things afloat these days!

But having said that, I don’t think the good ship Robert Frost’s Banjo is actually sinking, & I do plan on returning to the world of blogging in the very near future. Whether or not the hiatus has been beneficial or detrimental I can’t say, but I also believe at this point it’s important for me personally to re-assert the blogging identity. In general, the period since about early February has found me in a marked creative lull on both the musical & poetic fronts, & while it seemed that stepping back from Robert Frost’s Banjo might somehow help in jump starting my creativity, I can’t say it’s had that effect—if anything, it’s had the unintended consequence of making the lull all that much more pronounced.

So I will be posting a Banjo Friday this week, & also will be posting an Any Woman’s Blues entry at the end of the month. I’m not sure how often the banjo & blues posts will come around in the near term, but I know those two at least will be appearing. & I fully expect Photo of the Week & Rose City Wednesday  to return next week.

I have been doing a bit of blogging on the side, however, in case you’re curious. If you know me, you know I thoroughly love baseball, & I recently decided I wanted to blog about it. The blog is Beer League Box Score, & it can be found here. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this one, but the few posts I’ve done so far have been fun for me. It’s worth pointing out that this is a fairly unconventional baseball blog as things now stand, & is likely to remain so.

In other news: saddened by the news of Doc Watson’s passing—a truly great & inspiring musician, & one who made massive contributions in furthering the appreciation of traditional U.S. music. More about Doc on Friday, but for now I leave you with one of his classic numbers, “Deep River Blues.”

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


[A delightfully casual exploration of poetics in the light of interpersonal relationships from our banjo-uking poet in residence, Carmen Leone; enjoy!]


Often, I wonder where you are.
Sometimes, I wonder where I am.
Between the two of us,
one of us must be somewhere.


It seems to me a good poem
should come pretty damn close
to saying something that can’t be said.
The perfect poem should in fact say it.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
(This, by the way,
is a good example of a non-poem.)

Carmen Leone
© 2009-the present

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

I love flowers—tho I must say I have no green thumb at all. But to explore a flower garden: now that’s soothing to the soul.

With that end in mind, & a soul that perhaps needed some soothing, I headed toward the southeast this Saturday; a bit of a gray day, but with mild temperatures, my destination being the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden over in the Reed College area. Here are some of the wonderful things I saw:

I’d like to thank fellow Portland blogger Emma Nolan for putting the Rhododendron Garden at the front of my mind—Emma’s blog, Emmakat is a delightful collection of Portland photos & experiences mixed with thoughts & observations from a talented creative person. & you can read her observations about the garden & see her photographs here.

The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is located at SE 28th Avenue & Woodstock Blvd. Admission is free to all from the day after Labor Day through the month of February. A $3 admission fee is charged between 10:00am-6:00pm, Thursday through Monday, March through Labor Day. Admission is free for children under 12 and Friends of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

“Playing with the Queen of Hearts”

[In which Barbie Angell, in her best Chaplinesque mode, takes us on a poetic exploration of the “games people play"—enjoy!]

Playing with the Queen of Hearts

I’m Spying a future
in my Jigsaw of dreams,
though Monopoly cash
is just out of my reach.

But when I land on Payday
my Life will be fine,
a Barrel of Monkeys
that laugh all the time.

It’s no grand Operation,
these Ladder I tread,
though when I hit the Chutes
I just land on my….head.

I’m a Pawn in this game,
Yes, I’m the Old Maid.
If I really need Hearts,
I will only get Spades.

So I’ll sip on my Gin
until I get a Clue,
‘cause the Kings in a Corner
playing Skip Bo with you.

Barbie Angell
© 2009-the present

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Photo of the Week 5/20/12

Rhododendron Blossom
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Portland, Oregon
Saturday 5/19/12

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Bridgetown Tour Continues! Morrison Bridge

A beautiful May afternoon this past Saturday—the high springtime has come to Portland with tangerine skies & temperatures on the warm side of comfortable. This being the case, the day seemed ideal for another bridge walk, & so I caught the train, then caught the other train (yellow to blue, in a sort of kid’s game of color coded routes), until I found myself on SW Morrison Avenue, right at the edge of downtown proper.

The Morrison Bridge is a major artery in Portland, as it serves as a connector to the two interstate highways that travel thru the city—I-84, which runs east (southeast actually) to Salt Lake City) & I-5, which passes thru Portland on its north/south route between Los Angeles & Seattle. As such, the bridge’s 6 lanes of traffic tend to be bustling—50,000 cars per day cross the Morrison. It’s much less busy than most of the other bridges in terms of public transit, however; only the #15 Belmont bus crosses this bridge.

What the Morrison does have is a beautiful walkway/bike path, partitioned off from all that vehicular traffic with a guardrail. It is worth noting that the walkway is only on the southern side of the bridge. There is a narrow walkway on the north side, but as I was crossing, I decided it didn’t look at all inviting, & so I only crossed on the south side. I did see two bicyclists grimly walking their bikes in single file along the north side, but it didn’t look like very much fun at all!

The Morrison is also a drawbridge, like so many of Portland’s Willamette River spans, & it’s a bascule mechanism; in other words, the two sections “lift & separate.” Because the bridge is relatively high (69 foot clearance), it only needs to open on the average of 30 times per month—& no, I wasn’t treated to one of those openings during my crossing!

All of the Portland bridges have a distinctive “look,” & the Morrison is no exception; it’s described as “minimalist,” but it also has the distinguishing control towers that have been described as looking like air traffic control towers. For more about the bridge, you can check out the article on Wikipedia or the one on the Multnomah County website.

In addition to beautiful views of downtown Portland & the Willamette, on a clear day you can see Mount Hood from the Morrison, as evidenced by the photo below! The Morrison, like the Steel, the Burnside & the Hawthorne, connects to the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, & that’s how I wended my way back to Rose Quarter & the homeward train.

I’ve now crossed & written about five of the 10 Willamette Bridges. Two of the remaining five aren’t open to pedestrian traffic—the Marquam Bridge carries I-5, while the Fremont Bridge carries I-405. I’ll write them up, however. Still to come: the Sellwood (if I can get to it before it’s closed for repair!), the Ross Island, & the St. John’s bridge. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


[A meditation on the expected & unexpected—& how these morph over time—by Carmen Leone. Enjoy!]


In simpler times,
surprises seemed simpler:
friends dropping in,
finding exactly what you were looking for at half the price,
discovering a classic in the second feature
when you went for the main attraction.
Today, when such things happen,
they seem normal, almost expected.

Today, my surprises seem monumental,
almost always jarring:
Marriages go under.
Devout acquaintances have affairs.
A major institution goes belly-up,
Major melt-downs happen
to people and things
I was sure I could count on,
like banks
and friends,
and myself.

                                                                                                                  OCT 4/09

Carmen Leone
© 2009-the present

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Photo of the Week 5/13/12

Canada Geese on the Willamette River
Taken from the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, Portland, Oregon
Saturday 5/12/12

[for the uninitiated: "Willamette" rhymes with "will LAM et," not with "willa MET"]

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Song for Saturday 5/12/12 (& for a Friend)

Albert Camus says, “il faut croire Sisyphe heureux” (“We must consider Sisyphus happy”)—it’s an existentialist dictum, right? & lyricist Dorothy Fields said, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” As much as I liked Camus in my unfiltered cigarette smoking philosophical youth, I can say one thing in favor of Fields—with music by Jerome Kern, you can dance to what she says—Fred & Ginger proved that!

Indeed, the great American songbook tune “Pick Yourself Up” was composed by Kern & Fields for the equally great 1936 film Swing Time, starring the aforementioned Astarie & Rogers in all their splendor. The link above takes you to
the great tap dance sequence to an instrumental version, while this link takes you to a clip of Ginger Rogers singing the song (its introduction to the public), complete with Fred Astaire adding in a bridge or interlude section that I’ve never heard performed in any other version or seen in any sheet music. 

Now this is a catchy & fun song, & the version of it below by Diana Krall is pretty darned fine & fun. But the real point of this post is that sometimes people we care about have things go against them—sometimes things even go against them in a way that we may indeed consider unjust; & thinking of how the Good Book says the rain falls on the just & the unjust alike, we wonder why it is that the just often seem to find themselves in the metaphorical midst of a Pacific Northwest cold December downpour without an umbrella, while the unjust find themselves on the figurative equivalent of Malibu under a tangerine & sincere blue sky, with the air kissed by the most gentle sea breeze.

Turns out that someone I consider a really good friend, this blog’s own Rockstar-Poet-in-Residence, Barbie Dockstader Angell, suffered a setback this week. The specifics aren’t mine to tell, but I think I can say it involved a situation in which Barbie was treated unjustly, & that in a significant way.

Despite being “only” a virtual friend, Barbie has been one of a handful of people, “virtual” & “3-D” alike, who’ve most stood by me & seen me thru a difficult time in my life. You know Barbie from her delightful & imaginative poems & illustrations. I also know her—some at least—as a kind & thoughtful person, a great mom, & a good & loyal friend
—& not just to her “virtual” friends, but also to a host of wonderful people in her own corner of the world.

So, Barbie, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” I know you will, because you’re that kind of person, & from what I know of your life story, you always have been. & I also know that—while I don’t believe in any sort of external karma—there is more than a little karmic good to the soul in remaining true to yourself & your ethics, in taking the high road, in continuing to be yourself no matter what setbacks you’re handed.

That’s it for me. Barbie, you keep on keeping on, ok? & you, friends, have a great day. If life throws you a curveball—or even a dustback pitch!—you know what to do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Magic at the Aladdin

A gray Friday afternoon—too chilly for May it seems, & the afternoon has opened up to a real driving rain—not the persistent drizzle for which Portland is known. The cool air takes my breath away as I hustle between buildings at OHSU, trying to avoid the downpour & get under cover after my weekly appointment; meanwhile, planning my route home, hoping to avoid this soaking rain as much as possible.

But it lets up by the time I’m waiting for the MAX train by PSU, & I take my usual springtime route, walking home from the Overlook Park station in a light drizzle—the rush hour traffic roaring under the Failing Street bridge, the air still cold & wet in a way that causes my lungs to balk.

I have a ticket for the Zoë Keating show at the Aladdin Theater over in the southeast—a show that’s excited me since I first found out about it on the internet a couple of months ago. But by 4:30 there’s another hard rain, & I know there’s going to be walking & standing out waiting for buses, so this weather has to calm down within the next hour or so.

Which it does. I wait for the bus in a light drizzle; by the time the #9 bus has dropped me at the corner of SE Milwaukie & Powell, the rain has stopped, & since I’m early, I talk a walk thru the Brooklyn neighborhood, a quiet corner of the southeast just barely removed from the bustle of Powell: gardens, a little league ballfield, a neighborhood tavern, an old Hires root beer sign in a parking lot. For the first time in a few days, I begin to feel something like contentment.

The concert itself is a revelation. The Aladdin is a large & beautiful old theater, opened as a vaudeville house in the 1920s, then later as a movie theater—at times with a rather unsavory reputation. Now it’s back to its old glory as a live music venue.

The first act, FearNoMusic is an avant-garde string quartet that also brings in a percussionist for one song & a pianist for another. The song involving the pianist is the third in their set, a duet between piano & the first violinist, the piece by a Japanese minimalist composer; the impossibly keening tone of the violin over the rippling piano arpeggios draws me in, & from that moment on the concert transports me.

Zoë Keating herself is everything I expected & more. If you’re not familiar with her work, I did review her album Into the Trees a while back; briefly, Ms Keating is a classically trained cellist who uses looping technology to deploy a virtual cello orchestra when performing her intricate & moving compositions. Self-effacing onstage, she explains that she suffered from severe stage fright as a teenager, & it wasn’t until she got “off the page”—composing her own music without the need to use a score—that she was able to get beyond this. When a song crashes, she handles it with aplomb, & with genuine emotion—“damn,” she exclaims as she cuts the loop feed from her foot strip; then she plays one of her compositions with FearNoMusic, & takes us all back into the deep & complex soundscape. Her announced last song, “Optimist,” a composition dedicated to her young son, brings a rousing ovation, & she returns to absolutely nail “Exurgency,” the piece during which she & her technology had come uncoupled earlier.  All in all, it was an evening of transcendent music.

By the time I wait for the bus on Powell, there’s not even a hint of rain—I feel like for once I somehow beat the odds & discovered beauty.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

“Matches From the Truckstop”

[A virtual road trip thru the landscape of emotions with our favorite Rockstar Poet-in-Residence, Barbie Angell. Barbie tells me that her drawing of a daisy is a self-portrait—it seems to fit nicely with this poem!]

Matches From the Truckstop

My life is at a rest stop
in the middle of the nite.
Just another tired driver
who is fading from your sight.

And the dashboard glow unnerves me
like a spotlight on my mind
and I don’t know where I’m going
or what to leave behind.

But I wonder if I’ve lost it
or if it’s just not here
and I search around the back seat
for all the things I fear.

So I’ll fumble with the radio
for a song that takes me home
to a world of better lighting
where I never feel alone.

‘Cause my hindsight is the future,
the fortune that I’ve earned
and the ever telling promise
of a love that is returned.

There’s a bind that holds the distance,
and a game forever played,
and an endless tin of memories
that have been and will be made.

Barbie Angell
© 2009-the present

Monday, May 7, 2012

Where I’m At

Good morning, friends. Glad you could stop by Robert Frost’s Banjo.

This is not a Monday Morning Blues post, as you can no doubt tell—& my apologies to the music loving readers out there. I know the Monday Morning Blues & Banjo Friday posts have been sporadic over the past month or so.

In fact, that’s what I’m here to talk about today. If you’ve been following regularly, you know that I’ve had some misgivings about the viability of Monday Morning Blues & Banjo Friday as ongoing series. But until very recently I didn’t realize or admit to myself that all other considerations aside, I really need a break from the fixed posting schedule of those two series. I’ve written many posts about the blues & the banjo since Robert Frost’s Banjo began in 2008; there are 76 posts with the “banjo” label & 134 posts labelled “blues.”  Especially with my own musical life being in more than a little flux, I'm not sure what more I have to say on either subject right now!

As those of you who know me personally are aware, I’ve undergone significant personal life changes over the past year—the end of a long-term relationship, a move to a new city, followed by a move to a new place within that same city—getting used to new surroundings, new pace of life, getting used to living completely on my own for the first time since January 1998.  In light of all this, I believe I need to scale back some; & I also feel that I need some time to figure out how Robert Frost’s Banjo will continue to fit into my life.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never write about the blues or the banjo again—& when I do, the posts may very well appear on Mondays or Fridays! But not as ongoing series with any kind of regular posting series, at least not in the foreseeable future.

As I see it, the blog will go to a three-day per week posting schedule: Photo of the Week, Tuesday Poets, & the Wednesday Portland feature. Once I get my feet a bit more solidly beneath me, I may very well return to a more frequent posting schedule, but for now I think the three features are a good fit. This also means that I’ll probably be visiting other blogs a bit less frequently, as I continue to figure out my new city & new life, & how all of this dovetails with what has been an extremely active online life.

Enough from me. But what would a Robert Frost’s Banjo Monday post be without a little music? I think this great Gillian Welch song may be appropriate to the mood.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Photo of the Week 5/6/12

Old Hires Sign
SE Milwaukie Ave, Portland, Oregon
Friday 5/4/12
(this is a phone photo-not quite as sharp as the camera shots!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Excellent Outing Continued: Hawthorne Bridge

Welcome to Rose City Wednesday! When I left you last week I believe we were standing next to the statue of Mayor Vera Katz at the southern end of the Eastbank Esplanade, near the Hawthorne Bridge—& I forgot to say “to be continued.”

But perhaps you knew that. After all, if you’ve been following along, you know that I live nowhere near the southeastern corner of the Hawthorne Bridge, & you also know that I’ve set myself the task of walking all the “walkable” Portland bridges. Here it was, a glorious Sunday afternoon, with a big fat sun & the most pleasantly mild of breezes—so despite the fact that I’d already hiked from Northwest Portland & there was a bus stop nearby that could have taken me back to my neighborhood, I of course set off across the Hawthorne Bridge.

Perhaps because the day was so beautiful, I found the Hawthorne Bridge to make for a pleasant walk indeed. As you can see in the photo above, the sidewalk—which is very ample—is divided into both a walking & a bike lane; & on such a splendid spring day, this was a good thing indeed, as there was plenty of bike & pedestrian traffic on the bridge, especially heading west. Bikes in fact must cross to the west on the north side & to the east on the south side. While there are no similar restrictions for pedestrians, the flow certainly tends in that direction. In fact, per Wikipedia, the Hawthorne Bridge carries the most bike traffic of any Portland bridge, averaging 4,800 cyclists per day. In addition (& having mentioned the Hawthorne Bridge bus stop a while back—tho that stop is actually past the bridge on the east side), it also carries the most bus traffic: over 800 Trimet buses, averaging 17,400 riders daily.

The bridge rising
In addition, the Hawthorne Bridge, like most of the Portland bridges, is a drawbridge—specifically a vertical lift type drawbridge, in which the deck lifts straight up rather than lifting up in two separate sections like a bascule bridge—again, Wikipedia has a little gif illustrating the action of a vertical lift bridge. But the more-or-less exciting thing is that the bridge went into operation while I was crossing it. I only say “more-or-less” because the throng of people crossing the bridge prevented the best views (as well as the best camera angles!), but it was fun nonetheless. The opening was occasioned by the Portland Spirit excursion boat, which you can see emerging in the photo below.

The bridge was opened in 1910, & replaced an earlier bridge on the site that was destroyed in a fire. One of its most distinctive features—in addition to its rather dramatic truss profile—is the steel grating used for the car traffic lanes. 

Although the bridge carries many bus riders, it doesn’t carry light rail or streetcars, & no current transit plans are in place for it to do so—it had been considered as a route for the planned Max light rail Orange line from connecting Southwest & Southeast Portland, but a dedicated bridge is currently being built for that further south on the Willamette.

The Hawthorne Bridge as seen from Waterfront Park
It was a great outing! I ended up strolling thru Waterfront Park, then back east across the bridge & strolled until I was well along SE Hawthorne Boulevard before finally catching the buses that brought me home.

Four bridges down: four more to go!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"The Moments I Was Born"

[A lovely meditation on birth & death by Carmen Leone—or I should say, “births & deaths”]

The Moments I Was Born

I never knew the moments I was born.
I knew they happened, but cannot recall
the place, the day, the time, the circumstance,
I never knew the moments that I died,
if they were just before I came to life
again, or if there was a kind of gap
where time just stopped and waited to resume.
Perhaps they weren’t moments after all.
Perhaps they came not like a hammer blow
but slowly, oozing in between the toes
and rising inch by inch, and lifting me
until I floated, lazily, and watched
the clouds of people slowly rolling by.
Perhaps there’s been no hint of life between
but only birth and death and birth again.

Carmen Leone
© to the author