creativity, Poems, Uncategorized

(Re)Visiting Bob Dylan on his 80th Birthday

Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan

I don’t remember how I got introduced to Bob Dylan’s music, but I think it was probably by my dad. The first time I saw Dylan perform live was in July of 1987, at JFK stadium in Philadelphia, as part of that summer’s tour with the Grateful Dead. My friend Derek and his parents invited me along. I was seventeen. I remember fragments — it was very hot, and there were so many people. I wasn’t a particular fan of the Dead, but it was a big, intense show. It was thrilling to hear Dylan. A few years later, I saw him perform again, on his own, in Boston where I was in college. I think that show was at the Boston Opera House — obviously a much different venue and vibe than JFK in July.

Years after that, I saw the documentary (I cannot for the life of me remember the title — MAYBE it was this one?) that inspired me to write this poem:

Dylan Plugs In At Newport

“Maybe he didn’t put it in the best way. Maybe he was rude. But he shook us.”
— Jim Roony

The crackle of the amp, the whine. The thunk
of the pickup sliding home. The unthinkable. 
The first pluck sounded like a big fuck you
to Pete Seeger, who cowered, hands clapped
to his ears, rocking back and forth in disbelief.

The flat electric guitar body looked soulless,
and the crowd thought they were getting flipped
the bird by that long, skinny neck he fingered
to Maggie’s Farm. And who were these friends
of Dylan, these black men backing him up
with music and bodies that didn’t fit?
What did he think he was doing?

It is said the crowd booed him, but the evening
sounded more like a wail, a noise of panic and confusion.
The sound the rabbit makes only when it’s dying
in the jaws of the murderous dog.

The decade snapped open like a cracked skull.
What poured out looked like a bad marriage —
the folkie soul and the rock and roll moves.
Joan Baez and Ike Turner. That bad.

Later we would love him more for pushing us over,
for the elbow in the guts, the unrelenting riff
and jangle, but that night we couldn’t say
what we saw and heard; that long ago night
when possibility bled once more
from an artist’s fingers, slid from his throat. 
When, once more, we groaned against it,
we threw up our hands, we resisted.

This poem was first published in 2003 in the literary journal 5AM. In 2019, it appeared in the anthology, Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan. It was (still is!) a thrill to be included in that anthology alongside work from Patti Smith, Johnny Cash, Charles Bukowski, Anne Waldman, Robert Bly, Dorianne Laux, Yusef Komunyakaa, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, Eileen Myles, and others whose work I really admire.

I use a “we” in this poem that might imply that I personally witnessed Dylan perform at Newport in ’65, but I wasn’t actually there. I wasn’t anywhere yet, not having been born. In retrospect (it’s nearly 20 years since I drafted this poem!) I think I’m “borrowing” the “we” from the Roony epigraph, and/or maybe just presumptuously elbowing my way into it (?) and using it less to claim attendance at the literal event, but more to admit that I, too, have resisted or willfully misunderstood art I wasn’t ready for — art that troubled lines or borders I’d drawn or which had been drawn for me, so invisible they seemed natural.

Maybe that’s part of the gift of an artist in a moment like that — offering us (even those of us who weren’t there) a chance to see those lines for what they are, to imagine more expansively the possibilities for art and for culture and for living.

Also, maybe he just wanted to fuck with us a little bit.

Poems, Uncategorized

Others Carried Milk

(offered in solidarity with Minneapolis protesters in the wake of the murder by police of George Floyd, and in response to this striking image from Andy Mannix on Twitter)

“Within the crowd at least one person was wearing goggles and carrying a stick, others carried milk – a tactic known to be used to decontaminate pepper spray, and medics were on hand.”

–Burlington, VT Police Department press release, offered to characterize a nonviolent crowd of protesters as violent in order to justify the police department’s violent response

“Hope is never silent.”  —Harvey Milk

Others carried signs, a tactic known to enable free speech, written messages, dangerously sharp puns and slogans.

Others carried pocketbooks, a tactic known to keep sunglasses and spare change from spilling its deadly shrapnel out onto the pavement.

Others carried fists full of air.

Others carried pocket copies of the Constitution, a tactic known to be used for creating the U.S. government and enshrining fundamental rights, the sharp corners of which have been known to be used for putting out an eye.

Others carried cell phones, a tactic known to enable talking to other people on other cell phones.

Others carried pockets, a tactic known to enable convenient access to car keys – car keys, a tactic known to enable the driving of cars, the entering of homes and offices.

Others carried ideas, in invisible baskets, a tactic known to incite more ideas.

Others carried paper, a tactic known to enable origami, ass-wiping, face-fanning, petition-drafting, letter-writing, voting, littering.

Others carried tampons, a tactic known to enable convenient and tidy menstruation.

Others carried canvas shopping bags, a tactic known to stop tanks.

Others carried babies, a tactic known to be used to board airplanes early.

Others carried oranges, a tactic known to provide a handy and nutritious snack.

Others carried flags, a tactic known to incite patriotic protest and inspire impossible-to-sing anthems.

Others carried newspapers, a tactic known to incite reading and thinking.

Others carried shirts, a tactic known to be used to modestly cover nipples, known to be used to staunch the bleeding of broken skulls.

Others carried eyes, a tactic known to enable seeing, believing.

Others carried throats, a tactic known to enable swallowing, breathing, drinking milk.

Others carried teeth, a tactic known to enable biting.

Others carried ears, a tactic known to enable hearing the hiss of the gas canister and its clink on the sidewalk.

Others carried fingers, a tactic known to be used for pointing.

Others carried hands, a tactic known to be used for covering the head, the guts, the groin, against the rain of blows.

Others carried hearts, pumping and fluttering, a tactic known to push the blood into use and maintain life.

Others carried legs, a tactic known to be used for attempting to get out of the way of the falling baton.

Others carried Otherness – some easily, some bent beneath it – they could not put it down when ordered to do so.

Others carried away injured bodies, a tactic known to keep bodies from being further injured.

Others carried video cameras – pepper-spray-proof eyes plugged into long memory.

Others carried voices, a tactic known to enable talking, chanting, shouting, singing, testifying.

Others carried question marks, a tactic known to be used to ask questions.

Others breathed, a tactic known to be used to manufacture poisonous carbon dioxide.

Others carried bottles of water, which may not be taken through the TSA checkpoint – water, a tactic known to be used to slake thirst, to wet the voice for one more inconvenient accusation, one more adamant song.

Others carried hope, fiercely and tenderly guarding its necessary ember.

Others carried milk.

Others carried milk – tactical milk defensive milk mother’s milk of human kindness—

And the milk was spilled, all the milk was spilled upon all the scalded eyes, and oh how we cried over it.

And even those milky, non-tactical tears were gathered up. We pressed them into shards, into service. We carried them.

*

(first published in If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017)

Poems, Poetry, Publication

New Anthology: Show Us Your Papers

CvrShowPapers_postcardDiscounted pre-orders are now available for Show Us Your Papers, a poetry anthology due out from Main Street Rag press in Fall of 2020. I’m very happy to have a couple of poems included among those of so many poets I’ve long admired.

PRE-ORDER online here

Order Form (if you prefer to mail a check)

From the Introduction:

“Show Us Your Papers speaks to a crisis of identity and belonging, to an increasing sense of vulnerability amid rapid changes in the USA. While corporations wait to assign us a number, here are 81 poets who demand full identities, richer than those allowed by documents of every sort. Here are poems of immigration and concentration camps, of refugees and wills, marriage and divorce, of lost correspondence and found parents, of identity theft and medical charts. In an era where the databases multiply, where politicians and tech companies sort us into endless categories, identifying documents serve as thumbtacks. They freeze the dancing, lurching, rising and falling experience of our lives. The disconnect between our documents and our identities is inherent, reductive, frustrating, and, too often, dangerous. Yet we cannot live without them. In this anthology 81 poets offer a richer sense of our lives and histories—richer than any “official paper” allows. These lyric and narrative forms demand that readers recognize our full identities: personal, familial, national, and historical.”

You can read the full introduction, as well as some sample poems (including one of mine!), and see a complete list of poets included in the anthology HERE.

 

 

About Writing, Poems, rumination

Insects, Metaphors, Sonnets

IMG_1137.JPG

In the wild, bright colors warn of danger,
shout “stay away,” and warn of a nasty sting,
the consequences of touching a stranger.
A neon yellow frond, a cobalt ring,
the spangles and the spikes I wore as a girl–
I sometimes miss those garish hues of youth:
ornate parades, the glint of carnival,
the ways in which my body told the truth.
Emerging from long darkness, and long work,
I fade to camouflage in middle age:
my common wings match the oak’s dull bark–
a sturdy brown and a powdery dust of sage.
Sometimes I miss the way I caught your eye,
but also, these dull wings are how I fly.

*

The last time I blogged about an insect, it was in 2010, when I was at the Vermont Studio Center and encountered a dobsonfly. Let me tell you, it’s a fly worth blogging about. But also, that post remains my most viewed post EVER. I contemplated that popularity (and other things) in a 2012 post.

We discovered this yellow caterpillar yesterday morning on the closet door opposite the front door, and were wowed by its vividness. A friend & university colleague of mine (also a great friend and colleague of insects, I’m 100% sure she’d approve of the characterization) helped me identify it. It’s got a fabulous name — more fabulous, I’d say, than even dobsonfly. Ready?

This handsome specimen is the definite tussock moth caterpillar. Orgyia definita if you enjoy the Latin.

Tussock is certainly a great word, but it’s “definite” that slays me.

Reading about the definite tussock moth, and being struck by how it starts out so bright and glowy as a caterpillar and ends up sort of nondescript and plain as a moth, and thinking about conversations with a friend recently about the traditions (and subversions) of the sonnet and on the cusp of another semester teaching creative writing and so therefore (and always) thinking a lot about metaphors — I wrote the above poem.

Encountering and then learning a little about the moth kindled these thoughts about being younger versus being older — paying attention to the world, being awake to it and interested in what it has to offer. It was the visual detail of the moth, contrasted with the visual detail of the caterpillar, that made me want to further compare their qualities, comparison being both at the core of metaphor AND a common sonnet convention.

I daydream about how I might, some day, with my distinguished, insect-loving colleague, teach a class about insects, metaphors, observation, comparison.

The poem doesn’t have a title yet. I might have called it Orgyia definita (I do enjoy the Latin) but decided I shouldn’t name the specific species that inspired me because (please feel free to enjoy this detail like I enjoy Latin) the adult female definite tussock moth IS WINGLESS. Which temporarily wrecked my metaphor, but then I realized that this poem’s metaphors, while they came from this specific, actual place, are not consigned there forever. The poem has already … taken a step away from its origins. Like the moth, it has undergone transformation into … the next thing. Lucky for me, there are plenty of girl moths who grow up to be lady moths that have wings. (There are of course, other “solutions” to this “problem.” I’ll enjoy figuring it all out.)

For now, though, a new poem draft, just hatched, and some thoughts at the beginning of a new semester.

Poems

Keeping Cool Old-School with Lake Ice

From last week’s Concord Monitor, here’s a story about how Rockywold-Deephaven Camps in my town of Holderness, New Hampshire harvests lake ice in the winter for use in old-school iceboxes all summer long.

Ice harvest on Squam Lake

I have been lucky enough to witness the ice harvest and be dazzled by the immensity, ingenuity, history and beauty of the whole process. It inspired me to write a poem, “This Other Lake,” which appears, along with a number of other poems inspired by rural New Hampshire life, in my 2017 collection, Beating the Bounds. (Hobblebush Books)

This Other Lake

–Rockywold-Deephaven camps

We go down to the cove in February,
when Squam’s locked up tight with thick lake ice,
early in the morning, on short notice,
because the decision just got made –
the right weather, the right thickness of ice,
and everybody ready to work.

Walk onto the frozen surface with me,
to where the saws will whine and spark flakes
into the bright air, releasing buoyant cakes of ice
into an ever-enlarging rectangle of newly opened water.
I want you to know we call them cakes, not blocks.

In the necessary sharp cold, we’ll watch them
prod and herd the cakes using only pike poles—
down through the cut channel, to the winch,
to the truck, and then let’s tramp
to the old ice houses and watch them unload
and stack the slick cakes to the ceilings.

Over two days, they’ll uncap
three football fields’ worth of lake.
And then, after the ice houses are filled,
the lake will be left to itself again; the cold
will be free to knit, crystal by crystal,
a new skin across the breach.

In July, someone will sit on a screen porch
looking over this cove, sipping lemonade
kept frosty in the icebox,
where a one hundred and fifty pound slab of winter
slowly releases its long-ago chill.

This is how we have, for over a hundred years,
traveled through time, back to February;
this is how the cold will transport us
from that lake, with its shimmering, lapping waters,

back to this other one,
still white and locked up tight,
waiting for us to break it open.

Poems, Uncategorized

Where were you when I lost my memory?

In today’s Christian Science Monitor, a headline asks, “Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Why your memory might be wrong.” The story that follows pairs pretty nicely with a poem I wrote, gosh, at least ten years ago. I’m no cognitive neuroscientist, but I, too, wondered about the link between emotion/stress and memory. Scientists, do the research; poets, write the poems. Everybody’s got their angle.

Here’s me reading the poem.

Defining Moment

“Television, that final light that saves you from loneliness and from the night, is reality. Because life is a show, the system promises those who behave themselves a comfortable seat.”

–Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces

Those supposedly in the know about moments
say this one was ours — the televised explosion
just after lift-off, a million round faces rounding a million mouths
into rosy o-rings of shock, the teachers panicking
and fumbling for the remote. The principal
over the P.A. system. The aftermath
of group counseling and memorials.

I know this moment is supposed to be mine,
and I’ve tried to own it, like we try those things
we know we should try: like loving the right person,
like being yourself, like discarding self-destructive habits,
like starting the project early instead of late.

I’ve tried to cultivate it, like plants inherited
from friends who’ve moved away.
I’ve tried to invent it and believe it,
fusing TV with memory and fiction . . .

Picture this: pan across a classroom —
desks filled with pre-teens, all eyes
glued to the tube on the AV cart.
Maybe it’s your seventh grade biology class,
and it’s not clear just now whether
you’re remembering it, or remembering
something you saw later on TV, or both . . .

And maybe that’s your teacher
watching TV with you, leaning slightly
against the chalkboard that will leave
its telltale chalkprint on her shoulder,
the mark that always made you think
Miss Kellogg had a friendly ghost-guardian.
So maybe that’s Miss Kellogg watching TV with you
and seventh grade biology.

Me? We weren’t watching TV that day,
or if we were, I don’t remember — don’t remember what class
we did or didn’t watch TV in; don’t remember
what grade, don’t remember when you ask me to remember.
You should know I’m always faking
when I nod my head and widen my eyes,
pretending to share a vivid memory.
And you should know: I’m not the only one.

But I suppose we should take what’s offered —
our Titanic, our JFK, our “where were you?” —
and I suppose we should all agree not to admit
we can’t remember whether it was Mrs. Beardmore
and Algebra I — the mess of equations on the board
and the glint of her metal chalk-holder;
or Mr. Mueller, who made us square-dance;
whether it was Marine Biology or the purgatory
of study hall, or gym class; whether it was
TV real, real real, real TV, or just another
collective dream, which is to say
mytho-national mini-series,
which is to say

I’ve loved the wrong person in the worst way.
I’ve smoked things. I’ve had both the cheapest
and the most expensive vodka in embarrassing excess,
and I have killed every plant ever bequeathed
by every friend who trusted me and left.

Where were you when I started losing my memory?

Don’t ask me about the Challenger, don’t tell me
that was you, that kid in the front row, that kid
in that desk turning left and right for conformation,
for comfort; and don’t you tell me that confirmation
is comfort. And don’t make me name my moment.

The thing is — I missed it.