Monday, May 20, 2013
Hunting is not a sport. In a sport, both sides should know they're in the game.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Shall I have another cup of joe?
Let my heart dance a caffeinated tarantella.
The doorway comes into slow relief with cloud-covered dawn.
We hide, but clouds always sneak between the cracks.
That's how the wind blows,
when morning is dreaming
and the dawn hustles behind the stars
How to Write a Poem
Dave Bonta has done something bold in his newest collection, Manual: he has created a set of instructions intended “only [for] those who have no need of it.” There is a great deal of whimsy and play in this collection; at the same time there are moments his instructions read like well-translated passages from the Tao de Ching.
I am reminded of Neil Gaiman's poem “Instructions”, collected in Fragile Things. It also balances whimsy with the imperative case. It also seems basically impractical, given that these “Instructions” are a charming how-to for surviving a fairy tale.
Bonta's poems also have to do with basic survival: how to breathe, how to sit, how to walk. These are things most of us have learned once we got past the age of two. But perhaps not with the aplomb and intention these poems call forth.
How to Mourn
Write his or her name in the snow, get a comfortable chair and watch how it melts: the letters expanding, becoming illegible and finally disappearing into the earth.Spend time—the only form of currency the dead still honor.
Find the perfect slab of polished granite and release it into its native habitat.
Every year on the anniversary of your loss, take out a small ad in your local paper. Let it remain blank—an oasis of propriety among the ads for legal services and riding mowers.
Visit caves that have lost all their bats to white-nose syndrome. Stand at the entrance and listen.
Visit mountaintop-removal sites in the Appalachians that have been terraformed to look like Wyoming.
Wear a cowboy hat and squint.
Become addicted to a tear-flavored brand of chewing tobacco.
Bleed yourself regularly with leeches to remove the black bile.
Follow a river from its mouth to its source: a spring small enough to empty with one long sip.
Plant a stump.
As you see, Dave combines form: he mixes lyricism with prose poem. He adds in the occasional surrealist touch — "Become addicted to a tear-flavored brand of chewing tobacco." — and drops in a note of political commentary — I find the mention of Appalachian strip-mining quite effective here.
This collection is only available through Dave's web-site, Via Negativa. This allows the author to take full advantage of html tools: he links to Sound Cloud recordings of his reading the text, and to avant-garde videos inspired by his poems. This enriches the multiple layers of possible interpretation already present in each poem.
I read through this brief collection in a few hours. But each poem deserves its own hour. Many of us think of poetry as some code that must be deciphered. These poems are a fine antidote to that fear: they are approachable, friendly (in their imperious way), tender, often whimsical, and sly.
I love dipping into this instruction manual at random. Give it a try: you may learn something about how to wait, how to learn, how to write a poem.
Friday, May 17, 2013
He who plants a tree / Plants a hope.
— Lucy Larcom
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. —
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Richie Havens, R.I.P.
I was sad when I heard that Richie Havens died this past Monday (April 22). It's not like I was a big fan; after all, I only own three things – a double LP, Richie Havens on Stage, one downloaded song, and a DVD, The Guitar Style of Richie Havens, which is essentially an interview about his career conducted by Artie Tatum (Homespun Video).
But here's the thing: Richie Havens helped me get my first guitar.
Padre always had broad musical taste: cowboy songs, country, jazz, some classical. He sang and played the guitar. We owned Joan Baez records, along with the Smithsonian Woody Guthrie LPs, and Phil Ochs. So, it made perfect sense that he would take me to see the documentary Woodstock in 1970 or '71.
I was around 15 at the time. I'm not sure I knew the story of how Richie Havens opened that three day weekend after significant delays and set-backs.
All I knew was that Richie Havens was the bomb, as the kids used to say. That rhythm, that soul-full voice, that passion! Recordings don't really do the man justice — you've got to watch how he moves, how his feet dance during the music.
One thing that really impressed me was how he would retune his guitar during a song. Padre had taken me to a few coffee house concerts by then, and I'd never seen a guitarist do that before.
As I say, I was 15, with the same self-centered sense of entitlement that any other teenager would have. It was summer, and I had the house to myself most weekdays. I knew where Padre kept his guitar. And it made perfect sense that I could retune his guitar and pretend to be Richie Havens.
What I didn't know was that the guitar belonged to his father before him. Grandfather Will reportedly performed with that guitar, and led music in church with it. By rights, it would be passed on to the elder son (Brother Dave). I didn't know the guitar was already around 35 years old by that time.
Padre noticed, of course. He didn't punish me. He said he didn't mind if I played the guitar, but he didn't want it to be out of tune when I was done.
Of course, I didn't know what the hell I was doing.
So it came to pass that Padre drove to Driver Music and bought a Silvertone Guitar (a.k.a, the finger-killer) and a couple of teach yourself guitar books. He came to my room one evening — no special occasion that I can recall — handed me the guitar and books, and said “Knock yourself out.”
He did take pity on my fingers some months later, and lowered the bottom bridge. I played that guitar all through high school. I carried it out around in a cheap gig bag. I learned all the folk songs in those two books, then taught myself some finger-picking styles with the help of the first Leonard Cohen songbook.
I never forgot the impression Richie Havens made on me. In addition to the alternate tunings, I was also impressed by how he used rhythm. I've often tried to recapture that, in my own way. I was also impressed by how he joined "Tupelo Honey" with "Just Like a Woman" (see video above). Not an obvious pairing, but a story seems to be taking place under the surface, between the strums, behind the stretched notes.
I now own five guitars, including that one that originally belonged to Grandpa Will. I try to find new meanings in how I bend my voice, in the rhythms I play on the guitar. I even play one medley that tells its own story:
Thanks, Richie Havens, for that first guitar. Thanks for the passion that helped me persevere though the strings dug ruts in the fingers of my left hand and raised a boil on my right thumb. Thanks for the new rhythms you taught us. Thanks for your music, your ever-lasting music.
Saturday, April 06, 2013
So ... I've just spent the past hour and a half recording, editing, then uploading two videos of William Blake's The Tyger. For reasons only known to my inner Puck, I was amused to play it on the ukulele as well as the guitar. I credit the tune to Allen Ginsberg; I heard him perform it (acompanying himself on harmonium) back in the early to mid 80s.
I'm not sure which version I prefer; I definitely sing a little differently with uke than with guitar. So, I leave it to the wisdom of the cyber crowd: Do you have a preference?
The Tyger, from Songs of Experience, by William Blake.
Monday, April 01, 2013
Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees.
— Karle Wilson Baker
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