Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"I wonder…"

I wonder…

I wonder… What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
I wonder why my lip twitches like an involuntary Elvis impersonator
when I haven’t gotten enough sleep?
I wonder if Facebook has my photo on an ad for Steve Martin’s books?
I wonder if Steve Martin thinks of me whenever he sees an ad for Barbie Dolls?
I wonder why I can’t go a day without getting a notification
to update an app on my iPhone?
I wonder why my iPhone isn’t called a myPhone?
Isn’t “I” incorrect?
I wonder if 3M is working on an adhesive to mend a broken heart?
I wonder if “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”
can be translated into actual currency?
I wonder how many people hear that saying
and think it has to do with personal grooming?
I wonder how tall writer’s block is….
or if it’s measured like a city block?
I wonder why people made fun of my looks until Facebook came along in my 30s
and I wonder why all of a sudden I’m considered pretty?
I wonder if anyone’s 30-something brain can reconcile going from homely to pretty
in the span of a social media click?
I wonder if there’s an afterlife and if my father is hitting on Janis Joplin
and Helen of Troy…while secretly dating Natalie Wood?
If wonder if he’s proud of the person I’ve become?
I wonder if I’ll ever really trust anyone again?
I wonder why the family in Moonstruck puts sugar cubes in their champagne?
I wonder if wondering will become a lost art?
I wonder if smart phones and search engines will take away our wonder?
I wonder how many people remember the search engine Ask Jeeves
with the picture of a butler with the silver tray?
I wonder if Jeeves was based on the P.G. Wodehouse character and, if so,
how many people got the joke?
I wonder if I’m pro-noun-ciating Wodehouse correctly?
I wonder if a poem about wondering is anything anyone would want to publish?
I wonder, because my brain can’t help it.
I wonder because I know that I don’t know everything,
but something inside of me wishes that I did.
I wonder if wondering is what drives us forward?
I wonder if it would be easier if we were driving ourselves forward on bicycles
instead of cars?
I wonder if the feeling of actually pushing ourselves would spur us on?
I wonder if we would feel a sense of accomplishment from taking on such a task?
I wonder if our instantaneous gratification has taken away our chance at
pride in our work?
Pride in ourselves?
Pride in all that we can achieve as individuals?
Pride in the monumental change we can effect as a group?
I wonder this because I wonder why bad things happen all around me.
And I wonder what I can do as one small person.
One girl whose only gift is to make an audience laugh.
And then I wonder what will happen if I try to make things better, in some small way.
And then I wonder if anyone will even notice that I’m trying.
And then I wonder if they’ll want to help.
And then I wonder how we could have sat around before with doing anything?
Without even giving these problems a moment’s thought?
Without even trying to try?
Without even wondering?
And then I wonder…
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow
...because I refuse to search for the answer online.

Barbie Angell
© 2014

Inspired by a conversation with Worldchanging 101 author, David LaMotte.

Video of Barbie Angell's performance of "I Wonder" at the White Horse Black Mountain Slowhand Benefit by Kurt Loveland, & is used with his generous permission.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

“Perfect Day”

Some music for your Thursday.

While I’ve drifted away from rock music over the past 20 years or so, there are still seminal artists—artists who’ve inspired me on multiple level, including my poetry—to whom I still return. & two of those are Lou Reed & Patti Smith.

Certainly neither artists needs an introduction; Lou Reed’s work, both as a force in the Velvet Underground & in his long solo career, is some of the most compelling in the rock genre, both musically & lyrically. As far as Patti Smith goes, the same can be said. I still can remember a very early Saturday Night Live showing a video of her "Gloria In Excelsis," & I was immediately hooked in every way.

So it does make sense to pair the two—members of the New York punk rock scene, top-notch writers, true forces behind some of rock’s most genuine music. In this case, Patti Smith is covering the Reed song “Perfect Day.”

“Perfect Day” first appeared on Lou Reed’s 1972 Transformer album, released around the time of the Velvet Underground’s breakup—in fact four of the albums 11 tracks are songs performed by the Velvets (“Andy’s Chest”; “Satellite of Love”; “New York Telephone Conversation”; “Good Night Ladies”). Although Wikipedia states that “The song's lyrics are often considered to suggest simple, conventional romantic devotion,” this really strikes me as a huge over-simplification: if that’s the “meaning,” how does one account for “You just keep me hanging on” & “You’re going to reap just what you sow”? The vision seems to have a real underlying sadness & even darkness.

Others have conjectured that the song is about Reed’s heroin addiction, & while that is plausible, it certainly works as a song about the nuances & complications of love relationships.

The song has been covered a number of times, but Patti Smith’s version really cuts to the heart of the song’s sadness & complexity. Released on her 2007 album of cover songs, Twelve, Smith gives the song a deep & authoritative reading.


Image links to its source on Wiki Commons

"Patti Smith performing at the O2 Academy. Leeds, on Sunday the 9th of September 2012" by ManAlive!, who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"A View of the Gulf"

A View of the Gulf

Fourth floor condo at the beach,
Kids bounce over waves,
parents standing guard
or reading under blue umbrellas.
Occasional walkers rush by,
or stroll, hunting shells.

Clouds of different shades of gray
watch at the horizon
as I watch from this side
the constant waves
lunging at the varied humanity below.

The clouds and waves could not care less.
I could not care more,
though I,
like them,
am helpless.

Carmen Leone
© 2015

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Lido Beach, Sarasota, Florida (c. 1930-1945); linen texture postcard
Posted by the Boston Public Library under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Tuesday, March 10, 2015



Under the encompassing heaven,
with a golden-white star,
I walk alone
through the night.

And the world is full of darkness,
revolving in circles
like a mill wheel .

And the world stands still
inside its circling
and heaven sinks
the companion star
like a warped pearl
in the water of darkness.

And the star and I
let us go silent and wondering
past each other
through the night.

Steinn Steinarr ("Ljóð" in the original Icelandic)
Translation by Sheila Graham-Smith © 2015

From Wikipedia:

Steinn Steinarr (born Aðalsteinn Kristmundsson, 13 October 1908 – 25 May 1958) was an Icelandic poet.

Many Icelanders regard Steinn Steinarr as their greatest poet, although he remains almost unknown outside of Iceland, due perhaps to a lack of effective translations of his poetry.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons   

"Moorkanal mit Torfkähnen" ("Moor Channel with Peat Barges"): Paula Modersohn-Becker, c. 1900
Public domain

Monday, March 9, 2015

Banjo Hitter #4 – The Softballs are Blooming Again

The old captain at third base during a practice this spring
Greetings, friends! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, & before we get back into the usual run of poetry & music, I thought I’d bring you up to date on what’s going on in my world.

First, the Portland spring has come even earlier than usual. Typically the camellias & magnolias start blooming in mid to late February, with the cherries starting to come on in early March. Everything has been pushed up a couple of weeks this year, & it’s been great to enjoy all the blossoms as well as the unusual amount of sunshine & unusually warm temperatures. Yesterday the mercury almost rose to 80 degrees!

That said, it was a challenging winter physically. I suffered a bout of food poisoning during the holidays, & then came down with a nasty chest cold in early February. Since my lungs are already compromised by Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, it took me a long time to shake that, & indeed, today may be the first day I’ve felt completely back to normal.

But this only relates to the blog’s title by virtue of the fact that my softball team, the Underhanded Compliments, started practicing on February 15th, just a couple of days after I took sick, & I somehow managed to make it to the field every weekend—in fact, on both Saturday & Sunday the last couple of weeks!

Nothing says spring to me like the advent of softball & baseball. Standing on the infield dirt taking ground balls or taking swings on a real diamond as opposed to an indoor batting cage facility—these are as much the signs of spring for me as the cherry blossoms & the trill of the songbirds. While some friends have suggested that I might have been better served on at least a couple of those weekends by curling up on the couch with a book rather than being at the field, it really lifted my spirits to be out there.

The Underhanded Compliments will be starting their second year. For those who haven’t kept up with the softball news, it’s the team I captain (I also participate in an over-50 men’s league in the summer.) On this team, I’m the old man—probably a good 20 years older than the next oldest member of the team, & close to 35 years older than the youngest members. It’s a great group of folks, & I really feel it’s a privilege to be able to administer, manage & coach the team. & I also feel fortunate that I can still make positive contributions on the field—last year I did chip in with a .500 batting average over three seasons (spring, summer & fall.)

But mostly…well, you tell them about it, Jimmy: