Seven years? Is that right? Today is your birthday to turn 35 and you’ve been gone for 7 of those years now. I remembered that silly poem I wrote for you the year after you died – I shared it with few people and was happy when it came to mind yesterday talking to Amanda. Everything is still good here, things seem well with Chad; I think you would love my fiancé; I have a great career that I worked hard for – you’d be proud of everything. Happy birthday.
March 1st and the underneath
of beneath the grounds is a’rumblin.
Benjamin stirs in his made-for-a-Jew
coffin twixt two trees and a road.
Arise brother dear a rise!
From the zombified dirt and goth wounds
of the too many girls that will cry
and bleed over your grave tonight.
Shake them their maudlin pathos
and reach an ashy hand
from your cremation-tin-can
horror movie style with a half bent finger
and please – flip them the bird.
Happy Birthday is the word on your seventh birthday
elsewhere, celebratin’ with the Ghosts
and drinkin’ down your spirits.
For tonight I shall drink down your spirits,
with 2 shot glasses double fisting
some Moodswing Whiskey stumbling
over the upside down shovels
that I’ll use as stilts, like a Scared Crow
wobbling through the graveyard
my drunk fists’ll be dirty
from the digging up and digging down with you.
March 1st and the underneath
of beneath the skies is a’fumblin’
through blue hues of drug dazed
and hands balled at our chests.
Benjamin breaks loose the stitches
and vomits embalming fluids
burns off the doll suit and cuts loose
with a scream and dances the Skeleton Dance.
Owls hoot and the wind wails
as dust upturns from the foot stomping
of Zombies in their birthday suits.
Eating the cake of headstones,
getting stoned and boozed from graveleft libations
cawing into the night an Izibongo
of spirit guides while gliding into the shadows
to be seen only from the corners of our eyes.
Happy Day to the dead
and happy is our dead this day
for Benjamin turns whatever age his
ageless soul lets him; and since I still
have life left in me to breathe,
I’m blowing out the candles for you all.
Yesterday you sent me a poem by Robert Hass called, “The Distribution of Happiness.”
Bedcovers thrown back,
Lustrous in moonlight.
Image of delight,
Depending on who’s
Doing the imagining.
(I know: you are the one
Pierced through, I’m the one
Bent low beside you, trying
To peer into your eyes.)
While I was moved by the poem itself – its meaning, its intimacy, it’s unique expression of love and passion the way few understand it; I was moved more by when I put my usual practice of reading poetry backwards that I found where and how the meaning was held for me, for us…
To peer into your eyes here
bent low beside you
I am the one pierced
through what I know
to be true: you are the one.
We do this, this, imagining
and turn our torment,
our longings into images
And you – lustrous beneath
moonlit tangled sheets –
I throw back your bedcovers
and see the distribution
of my happiness.
In the poem, “The Suzerain Speck,” I learned, and became obsessed with, how to write the poem through the perspective of some other thing and since then have been either blogging about some iteration of this idea or notebooking some variation of this poetry form.
I began to write several poems from the perspective of Hesse’s Siddhartha through the filter of my belief system. Many of the poems were, I felt, successful however when I found myself meditating on Siddhartha at the stream another creature began to sniff around at his crossed legs, illuminated brow and lily pads.
As if one Hesse novel bled itself into another – if I’d dream of Siddhartha I would be interrupted by the Steppenwolf as some pup searching for his pack, freed from his cage, taunting Siddhartha the way he’d taunt Herr Haller as a boy.
I set the Siddhartha poems aside and decided, instead, to pay mind to my Steppenwolf pup instead. While every word Hesse ever wrote impacted me in such a way that from the onset of the first page of each book I shall forever remain changed – the Steppenwolf has always found his way to permeate my soul and body without reserve.
I began to read about the Gray Wolf and wrote scribbled ideas in the side of notebooks and poetry books I was reading. In addition to this studying I’ve recently finished a class with Burgh Bees on honeybee keeping, with this in mind I began to read Nick Flynn‘s book, “Blind Huber,” which is a series of poems about the art and history of beekeeping. Many of Flynn’s poems were reflecting the same connection to the bees that I was experiencing towards the Gray Wolf; the first of the wolf poems came out in the margin of a poem about the queen bee wanting to die in a specific way… The wolf pup began to sniff around, searching for his mother.
The pup sniffs at cold where
a killing of, simply, too much
to eat alone had left a scent
redolent of pack.
His breath – a slow drift
steam, shifting, a quick
fog as, in the stream,
he out-tricks his reflection –
and to an image of ether his
breath (as everyone stands
wrapped in arms, pose, held
smile – steam, resembling
the face moved, by aperture)
moved by interest
in anything else but this…
“Mother,” he sniffs, “alpha.”
He snarls, “Judy. Never mention Judy.
We. Never. Talk. About. Judy.”
Shaken loose by a wet memory
he whimpers… “Judy.”
His paw to bare snow, and slick
as a flashback hallucinating
an instant decades passed;
the sound of that bartender
pint glass-plunge into the ice
bucket – crunch… “I am sitting
below her bar stool, I am heeling,
mouth closed waiting
for the reinforcer, she loves
me as I do her.” The whiskey
stench of his mother tongue
against his neck fur…
Tracking the eidolon of perfume
in the hallways of some dark
night club; sunlight, bathing
through tree branches,
dancing the komorebi; her scent
on pine bark, paw prints in snow, her icy reflection in the stream,
dancing the ignis fatuus.
His nostrils yawn at the memory
of canines bared in a snarl,
eyes distend in tears at the howl,
the teeth and gum glare..
the pup sniffs at cold where
a killing of, simply, too much
to handle alone has left a scent
redolent of her grief…
Talking with Blake Ragghianti the other day about the extemporaneous nature that is sine qua non to jazz music brought my mind back to a piece he and I put together a few years back. Coupled with the bass stylings of Dave Busch and the venerable nature of Jerry Gaudi‘s trumpet playing we four put together a piece of jazz poetry that held, as its last stanza, the nature of that extemporaneousness; it is always to be spoken, as if the entirety of the preceding poem were its epigraph, on the spot and not rehearsed. The piece was to end, with each iteration, with something different inspired by the feeling and spirt one elicited from the poem.
Blake later pieced together all the video from the event and some images with a recording…
The Backside of a New Orleans Bandstand’s Got Its Insides on the Outs.
When at first I had the chance
To take the ski-ba-de-bop-do-opportunity
To bless these restless
Ears with years
of tangible voice from pipes
in nights of tattered paramour
And I found a fair enough pheromoaning
melody melismically tease out and spout
these tones so sound and so
beat [that I rose in tomes of sweet poems]
And Billie Holiday see, she lain bare
tongued across the bottom rungs of this ladder
I remember the first time that I heard that
(Sunday was gloomy and with shadows I spent them
all — my heart and I have decided to — )
I remember when Ma Rainey shined me her
big beautiful barraging black bottom her cow
hooves stuck in the muck and entrails of
the mud undoing the undone history
of the dance itself
And I remember the day that Nina Simone died.
I Standing flat and shirtless in a Southern heat to
[beat so hot that even my eyes were sweating]
On the decadent Decatur balcony
while old Johnny Boy violined a dirge
in the hallways all ways stringless.
He’d just horse hairedly hum a harmony
Orpheusly while clowns and umbrellas
umbraed the French Quarter
while Harlequin Hobos and hounds
howled and funeraled through the streets
to beats [I venerate the trumpet
and I deify the simplicity
of the blues] tone on one note wrote toes
tapping on Green Dolphin St.
Where I meet women who endlessly collapse into song.
In New Orleans where
(My baby never treats me, sweet and gentle,
the way she should)
I’ve still got it bad man, and that ain’t good.
But then again – my babies never treated me so gentle.
Now that wasn’t so bad now was it?
Alyssa – I remember her name and at 6 feet 2 inches tall
all brunette you could bet that you could find her
any night of the week blowing deep in a Jazz deep
tone in a one note club with its insides careening on it’s outs.
She’d spouts above the drums, the cymbals and all that guitar.
Above the drums, the cymbals and all that guitar.
She’d blow deep from that heart and that heart from that soul
and that soul blowing from that soul blowing from that
Suyam-bop-be-op-a-dum-bass that dropped my throat
to the chok-ing diaphragm and man –
I was in…
It probably wasn’t love, but from New Orleans on –
it was heels over head style while all the girls I fell for –
they were just Jazz songs in the singing.
And I fell for that brunette in the black dress with the whiskey grin.
The chain smoked Femme Fatale that riled my nerves
and dropped my heart to a single –
She was – every woman –
that Humphrey Bogart ever fell in love with.
[Make up the ending each time you do it..]
In the light of this conversation with Blake I was taken to one with Kitty regarding the irrelevance of the jazz when compared to the notes we choose and why we choose them.
Similar to the medium and forms within – the poem, the poetry, doesn’t matter. What matters is why – and this is why I continue to write this blog without just simply posting poems and, instead, post long rants regarding my connections to it and why I do it the ways in which I do.
Why, I wonder, are so few poets unwilling to share in this manner?
Throughout the poesphere this week there has been the unfortunate buzz regarding Amiri Baraka being hospitalized and, thankfully, recovering fully from an innominate illness.
When the news presented itself I braced for the worst; I have an unfortunate, and extensive, familiarity with the loss of those who were very close to me and consequentially anticipate dreadful plans of reality to unfurl. We all poem and pray for the best now Amiri; to your health and continued words I raise my glass to you.
When I’d read that he was in good health and released from the hospital my thoughts drifted apart and away from concerns related to Baraka. Instead I strayed to the concept of post-death homage, eulogies, funeral poems and memorializing of the deceased; a form of memorializing that is exceptionally relevant to the world of poetry and certainly profound in its respect of the dead – but it is as well also imperative to maintain our own well being. Nevertheless, I pressed further into this idea of homage and wondered what it is that drives us to create in this medium in the first place.
Robert Pirsig, I believe, in theafterwordofZen, addresses this question succinctly; when considering what it was about the death of his son, Chris, that impacted him so deeply…
“What had to be seen was that the Chris I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, [and while] the larger pattern remained, a huge hole had been torn out of the center of it, and that was what caused all the heartache. The pattern was looking for something to attach to and couldn’t find anything. That’s probably why grieving people feel such attachment to cemetery headstones and any material property or representation of the deceased. The pattern is trying to hang on to its own existence by finding some new material thing to center itself upon.“
The reverence of the deceased through poetry is a way of filling that human-shaped hole in the pattern as we understand it. We have an image of, an idea of, a concept of, a pattern representing someone whom we have lost and when that concept grows a distortion or has a boot-heal-shaped hole where the heart was – then for our sanity and for the memory of those lost – we must fill it.
I wondered to Donne‘s Holy Sonnetsand mumbled through a cigarette butt, “death, be not proud, though some have called thee / mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so…”
In brief, this poetry form is a historical preservationist’s narration regarding the successes and achievements of a clan or clan member; and accordingly, the words Izibongo Zamakhosi translate to, King’s Praises. In length, however, a page I’d found and now consider to be the sine qua non source of explanation and teaching of the Izibongo Zamakhosi can be found Matebeleland.com’s blog on the history of the culture and poetry of the Ndebele people.
At the age of 19 I plunged into the world of poetry via the French Quarter in New Orleans, meeting and learning from scores of brilliant writers. I learned, specifically, about the poetic form Izibongo from poet David Rowe who quickly shared with me his examples which were, astonishing, king’s praises of a more modernized caliber.
The first Izibongos he shared with me were his, “Walt Whitman Izibongo,” and his, “Jack Kerouac Izibongo,” and explained to me that the Izibongo was a “chanting form of praise poetry read when a warrior was going off to battle or has died.”
“Brilliant!” I’d thought, “to commemorate our favorite poets through chanting praises at them as if they were kings and warriors!”
It wasn’t until much later, roughly 6 or 7 years later, that I began to write Izibongo’s of my own and felt that they truly were the path upon which I could appropriately exalt not only my poetic idols passed but also my loved ones who deserved my praise in words.
David’s book, “Unsolicited Poems,” is one of the more inspirational books of poems I’ve read, I recommend purchasing it or borrowing it from me soon.
What I consider my best Izibongo to date…
Hermann Hesse Izibongo… (for David Rowe who has to take it)
The man who dreams of a boxed leg, a bitten scorpion tipping the tip dribble of Goethe’s magic markered on moustache and never coming up for eternity’s heir!
Whose bleat is wisdom bellowed by the gruff in a Billy Goat’s Bah-ah-ah, and who holding high Narcissus flowers is himself a bouquet of finite clopping hooves upon the Steppe Mountains!
Who never knew the treeless, never lain claws nor teeth to the vastless, nor scowered the cliffsides of southeast Europe, or Asia, and yet – left them, all the same, absorbed into human forms, as this sheep in wolves clothing.
Who I say knew my dreams, knew my rivers, and knew my Phoenix more than I!
Who knew Berlioz by the backwash in a spittoon.
Who knew Mozart from the saints who could not dance, but danced the same in “victory’s forgotten underwear!”
Who knew Matthisson, Beethoven, and Jean-Paul Sartre by names only their Mommies could call them!
Who in ’46 was noble enough for a prize.
And who in ’62 was prized as a noble by “The Eternals” in some heaven for Madmen Only, some heaven that he never had a need to believe in!
Who could know folk by their lore and whose reliquary is full of bronzed tails he plucked from the back end of fairies!
Citizen of Switzerland!
Spoiled “Fuck-All” of Germany!
Whose very name speaks of love!
Of some vague her!
Of Thomas Mann
Of the very Hesse towns of your ex country!
Whose very spine IS the fulcrum of all of literature’s twirling world!
Secondly, as I made friends and acquaintances with Dylan Thomas aficionados around the web I encountered a new emotion that I’d never felt before… As a result of having my tweets retweeted and favorited by Twitter users such as The Dylan Thomas Center Swansea (@DTCSwansea) and Dylan Thomas News (@DylanThomasNews) and also, now, being followed by them I felt a great sense of the emotion, “fiero,” which is a kind of pride inspired by great accomplishment done by oneself. I’d never encountered this outside of stage performances or passing difficult exams as an interpreter. I certainly never thought I’d encounter it by viewing my twitter feed.
I believe, then, it was the fellow at Dylan Thomas News who informed me about the Dylan Thomas 100 celebration where fans recorded Vine videos of single lines of Thomas’ poetry and they were then pieced together to create Youtube videos of the entire poem.
And then there was, lastly, the comment I received from a Dylan Thomas fan after he’d found the transcript that I had done…
Jason- Over 45 years ago, before the advent of the new technology, I put the Caedmon recording of “A Few Words of a Kind” on my turntable, and tried over and over to copy down the transcription of this marvelous introduction to Dylan Thomas’s poetry. I finally gave up, knowing I would never be able to get it exactly. A few years later, I was doing research at our local library, and found the complete transcription of his remarks in an issue of “Mademoiselle” magazine. I do not have the exact date of the magazine, but I do have a copy of the transcription in its entirety with complete accuracy. You did a wonderful job with your transcription, but it occurred to me that you might want a copy of the remarks as Dylan gave them . If you would like me to mail you a copy, I would be glad to do so. Just email me back and let me know. It is gratifying to know that there are other people out there who also love and appreciate Dylan Thomas. The irony is, in my opinion, due in part to the infusion and reliance on technology, that we have lost the beautiful expression of language that made Dylan Thomas memorable. Namaste Weiss
I promptly sent Weiss my mailing address and less than one week later the transcript as Dylan wrote it arrived in my mail. I read it thoroughly and found that I had only made one or two minor mistakes. Mistakes which, for the sake of making the easiest of the Copy & Paste option, I’ve gone back and corrected.
While I am certain I’ll eventually discover the issue of Mademoiselle that this article was posted in; thus far no results have come my way…
And, lastly, one of the more amusing things that I cranked out while enjoying this venture was when I was submitting a vine for the Dylan Thomas 100 Poem and wasn’t actually aware of which poems they wanted. The line, “daft with a drug that’s smoking in a girl / and curling round the bud that forks her eye,” as presented by my pug, Watson, and myself…
The class was taught by New Orleans poetDavid Brinks and included random appearances and guest lecturings by, then, LSU professorAndrei Codrescu.
These techniques I still employ – they are timeless in their ability to produce something interesting from our craft. One technique Brinks often asked us to experiment with while reading our poems aloud was one that he learned while, “watching Bernadette Mayer talk to poets after they’d finished reading at a performance,” she’d tell them, “read your poem backwards now, line for line.”
The city shines out across the water like promise itself, a flaming white love letter to work-worn hands, a cannon-fired kiss aimed at young dreamers, and I say to it, “I love you too, Pittsburgh.”
His nervousness was a result of having not been on stage in quite a while and so I suggested, instead of just reading his lines, he reads them in reverse. With slight modification to word order and choice he produced, instead, a different and still impacting meaning:
And I say to it, “I love you too, Pittsburgh,” a cannon-fired kiss aimed at young dreamers, and work-worn hands, a flaming white love letter to promise itself, to shine out across the water.
Today I was thinking of this encounter and remembered, in 2011, I attempted to convey lessons of poetry via Youtube videos. This one in particular expounds on poetry in reverse by reading and reversing Yusef Komunyakaa.
I implore you to try it with your own poetry and the poetry of those whom you admire. You will find something new and beautiful almost instantly that you couldn’t have discovered another way.
For example – after watching this video I found a great, new appreciation for having lost those 40 pounds… Look at that face… And that chin…