Sunday, March 26, 2017

JOHN SJOBERG R.I.P.

Since first meeting him around 1970, my encounters with Iowa poet John Sjoberg—whether in person or through correspondence, always infused with his kind and gentle spirit—left me feeling filled with a kind of childlike sense of love.

There was an innocence and artlessness to his presence that translated to his poetry. His work wasn't what is sometimes called "faux naif"—because there was never anything "faux" about it, in my experience—but genuinely and uniquely a product of who John was, in the way that Satie's music or Henri Rousseau's paintings, are the results of who they were.

John's published output is minimal, compared to most poets (let alone a graphomaniac like me), but choice, as they used to say. Because no individual poem of his is duplicated, either in its approach or its outcome, and thus can't be compared to any other.

I'll leave you with three examples from his first collection (I believe), HAZEL, that he inscribed and sent to me when it came out in 1976 (a lovingly produced work of art itself and example of independent fine book printing and design, by Cinda and Allam Kornblum and their Toothpaste Press out of which later came Coffee House Press):

3's INTO 4'S

rattling leaves
wind blowing
music from a cello.

thin sensitive features
music from a cello
a lamp burning oil.

a slow drop of water
a second drop of water
a second drop of water
music from a cello.

a second drop of water
a slow piece of music
a raft, floating
a ball of string.

a lamp burning oil
music from a cello
the end of a long shaft
a slow piece of music.



A SANDWICH

Penguin Bread.
pumpkin.
pumpkin.
pumpkin.
Penguin Bread.


PORCH WINDOW

my head is green
the songs here, the bird songs
here & here & here
are my heart.

the tractor engine beats,
drives fall corn up into the granary.
my whole body can feel it. i wonder
if they'll take me into town
in a  wagon.

i'll stop at your house
in a bushelbasket,
grinning from ear to ear.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A FORGOTTEN GREAT PASSAGE FROM KEROUAC

I never do assignments that people post and request on the Internet but for some reason did when I got one that said go to the nearest book and open to page 56 and point and copy the sentence. There's a bookcase next to my little desk and the closest book to me is VISIONS OF GERARD, Jack Keroauc's elegiac lyric memoir about his brother who died when he was a precocious child.

But when I opened it to page 56 I found a blank page (because it's the back of an illustration in my hardcover first edition once-library-book that a friend from my DC days, Deb Fredo, gave me back in '74)...so that was that. But I skimmed the following pages and on page 62 found this full-to-overflowing memorable Kerouac-ian passage that I had marked (and assume the mistakes are intentional though some seem not):

"I curse and rant nowaday because I dont want to have to work to make a living and do childish work for other men (any lout can move a board from hither to yonder) but'd rather sleep all day and stay it up all night scrubbling these visions of the world which is only an ethereal flower of a world, the coal, the chute, the fire and the ashes all, imaginary blossoms, nonetheless, "somebody's got to do the work-a the world"—Artist or no artist, I cant pass up a piece of fried chicken when I see it, compassion or no compassion for the fowl—"  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

JOANNE KYGER R.I.P.

One of my favorite poets and people, Joanne Kyger passed after a full life of over eighty-two years. If you don't know her work, you should. I see she's being classified as "A Beat Poet" in some obits (because she was married to poet Gary Snyder back in the day—who is often associated with "The Beats"—and of course they were friends with those who basically were considered "The Beats"), but her work was too unique to have it classified with any group.

I didn't spend much time in her presence over the years, but occasionally since I met her around 1970, around the time the photo above was taken (the fuller version). But we corresponded and I think read together at least once, and she was one of the first poets I asked for work for the anthology I put together in the 1970s called NONE OF THE ABOVE.

Here's a great quote from what I selected for that:

"When there is nothing to seek, then
            there is ease."

And here is a poem from 2003 that's being quoted around the Internet since the word got out that she'd passed, this was included in her giant collection ABOUT NOW:

Night Palace

"The best thing about the past

                                           is that it's over"

                              when you die.

            you wake up

from the dream


                                             that's your life.


Then you grow up

                         and get to be post human

                    in a past     that keeps happening

                ahead of you

ONCE UPON A LAST MONDAY


A lot of photos taken last Monday at The Gotham Comedy Club Poetry In Motion reading/performance, but these are two of my favorites: me reading from my 1982 book ATTITUDE, and hanging at our table with poet and dear friend Rachel Diken, who also read, my oldest son Miles, and his girlfriend Hannah...

Monday, March 20, 2017

ANOTHER GREAT NIGHT

For those who came out for this tonight, thank you, and for those who missed it hope to see you next time. The event was an explosion of creative energy: pointed, powerful, poignant, and often funny as hell. But most of all inspiring and comforting. Because everyone on the bill brought the kind of compassionate heart coupled with no-bullshit realism that make us a community of not bleeding-heart liberals but kick-ass love-generators. Let's keep making it happen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

CHUCK BERRY R.I.P.

It's always been my intention, since I started this blog, to bring my personal experiences and connections to some topics of the day that catch my attention. I am so happy that many news and Internet outlets are referring to Chuck Berry in their obituaries as "The Father of Rock'n'Roll" because he was. His influence on me was enormous as his music hit the radio just as I was hitting puberty.

I posted the photo of the cover of the first anthology I had poetry in, CAMPFIRES OF THE RESISTANCE (Bobbs-Merrill 1971), because in my bio for it the first thing I mention is the influence of Chuck Berry. I attended the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop on The G.I. Bill and received an MFA in Poetry in 1968 and the title of the collection I submitted for my thesis was "Sittin' Down At A Rhythm Review." Which I thought summarized the workshop experience for me. Most of the professors had no idea what the title referenced.

But here's a video of Berry singing and playing the song that title came from—"Roll Over Beethoven"—in 1958, several years after the song came out, and as usual he is working with the house band, or local musicians (in an obviously foreign venue as the way he does his intro implies) and expects them to keep up with him as he sings his own lyrics and melody in a way unique to this performance (very much like a jazz musician, and like many rock'n'rollers who would follow in his footsteps, in one way or another, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among many), listen to the way he changes the ending chords to minor ones distinct from the record...

His performances alone were templates for how to showcase rock'n'roll guitar virtuosity, and if that's all he had done would have given him the right to be called "The Father of Rock'n'Roll" but listen to the lyrics and the chords and the melody and acknowledge he was the great innovator who combined genres of earlier music—jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, pop and even country—into a guitar driven explosion of exuberance that changed not only music but culture and society...forever.

Long live rock'n'roll!