Category Archives: Toolbox

The Gray Wolf Poems…

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.

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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 bledScreen Shot 2014-01-24 at 6.51.04 AM 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.

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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.

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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…

My poems never treat me – sweet and gentle…

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

I did

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…
Something.
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 –

beat.

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?

Izibongo Zamakhosi…

baraka_youngThroughout 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 the afterword of Zenaddresses 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 Sonnets and mumbled through a cigarette butt, “death, be not proud, though some have called thee / mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so…”

I considered myself with Carl Solomon in Rockland.

I puzzled over who would, “bear the whips and scorns of time / [when] he himself might his quietus make / with a bare bodkin,” instead.

Although the answer is entirely dependent upon subjective taste and preference – what poetry, what word, what eulogistic writing is suited well for the praise of our dead?

I found myself, lastly, with the Ndebele praise poetry known as the, “Izibongo Zamakhosi.”

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.

Letterpress broadside “Walt Whitman Izibongo” by David Rowe on sale at Etsy.

Listen to David Rowe reading, “Walt Whitman Izibongo,” here.

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)

Hermann Hesse!
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!

Hermann Hesse!
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!

Hermann Hesse!
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.

Hermann Hesse!
Hermann Hesse!
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!
Hermann Hesse!
Citizen of Switzerland!

Hermann Hesse!
Spoiled “Fuck-All” of Germany!

Hermann Hesse!
Whose very name speaks of love!
Of some vague her!
Of Thomas Mann
Of the very Hesse towns of your ex country!

Hermann Hesse!
Whose very spine IS the fulcrum of all of literature’s twirling world!

 

Reading poetry in reverse…

In the spring of 2001 while participating in a weekly class at the New Orleans School for the Imagination, at the Goldmine Saloon, I learned many creative ways of approaching and improving upon my poetic form.

The class was taught by New Orleans poet David Brinks and included random appearances and guest lecturings by, then, LSU professor Andrei 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.”

About a month ago I attended the Literary Arts Boom [LAB] reading at the East End Book Exchange where I found brewmaster Brandon McCarthy getting ready to, nervously, read his small but distinct poem in the night’s lineup.

His poem read:

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…

Thinking inside the box…

John Lambert and I continue to have conversations based around the suspended in a leap of creative faith concept and were discussing, recently, why structure in poetry, why form is important to learn.
His response email is lesson worthy of exposure.  —
J, we had discussed the question of 
‘why create in villanelle?’
and answered that with ‘because employing forms
teaches you to be more creative within a structure’.
 
i wished to add this found thought:
 
…structure exists because
we expect cohesion from thoughts,
and structure is the framework for reason to exist
functioning as unseen as bones and beams
but necessary, unless you want to live in mud huts
as floopy things.
 
any sort of structure will do, from the pre-packaged
to the found art creation.  invent, restore, whatever.
but if, as a creator, you ignore the need for structure
good luck to you keeping a roof on the shape of your art.

 

Suspended in a Leap of Creative Faith… Part 3.

John Lambert says, “more specific,” he tells me, “remember that shaman? I relate to this dandelion as a carpenter; how can I remove the carpenter from the poem? How would the shaman then, in this light, relate to this seed?”

John read this poem to me at Molly’s At the Market in New Orleans last week when we were discussing the prompt of placing ourselves as someone, or something, else into the perspective and writing how the experience would play out through that belief system as we understood it.

His primary poem was one of a shaman seeing a dandelion seed float in front of his face – to which John wrote the following piece.

The Suzerain Speck

the shaman recognized his aura
in the star of a weightless seed
riding the wind

that pilgrim curiously paused before him
as if taking-in this stranger
and mirror of itself

as one infuses what another
reflects
by one’s expression

the seed bestowed on him
the thrill of being buoyant
blown from the womb

the shaman gave the seed his feet
on the earth, bearing weight

his encumbrance of thought
traveling many roads at once

and felt its mind
devoted to one knowing current

Suspended in a Leap of Creative Faith… Part 2.

As I continue my understanding of why we create and what purpose it serves I continue to fill a toolbox of endless shelves with techniques, prompts, exercises in expanding our creativity… And while I am compiling most of these techniques and understandings in order to share them with my partner – it’s important to me, to others, that a more public access to these techniques and prompts are available.

I know your methods my friend, I know your framework.

I know this red door…

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The hallways, allways, like walking into a bead of dew on Indra’s Web and seeing, and being that being with a panoramic view of some absurdist’s infinity; I am home. This is where the filaments of Whitman’s spider land and cast, cast, cast themselves in and out of balcony windows from the swing that keeps us playing, keeps us young.

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In the eleven-hundred block of Decatur St. in New Orleans I stand in the kitchen of John Lambert’s apartment – I know I cannot function as a whole unit without this place, without him. We are yolks of the same egg, I ask him –

What are we writing this time?”

“Why is the kite behaving the way it does? Is it trying to be a flock-less eagle? And if you were this kite; if you the juggler were this kite, if you the poet, the carpenter, the shaman were this kite – how would it relate to itself within the framework of your belief system?”

This shaman, for example, encountering the flight of a dandelion seed head…

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“…the prompt is projecting the self into the kite, the chair, glass, the dandelion…”

The juggler… He sees the dandelion seed in flight before him; the wind is a juggler too; he feels jealousy at the ease of the wind’s ability; he is grateful that it would be willing share its technique; they share methods without speaking.”

“Yes. This is the prompt exactly. How do you, I, we behave as this object while existing within our belief systems? I am this kite and I possess the belief system I understand now. I am glass – with the same context.”

[John pulls his notebook out, flips a page, smiles, rolls a cigarette, hums a small laugh and reads…]

in the land where we are glass

we give thanks to make it home
unbroken, crowded with the reflections
we collect come end of day

I set down the glass box i’m always carrying
you draw too close for me to see your edge
as you peel away the panes
dropping explosions, whispering

“I’ll clean-up the mess later”

we click into a sheet
double-backed and carousel
as a threat to the furniture
the glass cat mrowls and darts away

“the floor” i moan

we drop together, we slide
into the stained glass kitchen
here your hair is a church
my face a prism grinning up

“what are you smiling at?” you beam

I dare the stupidest thought
blushing chromatic, for i had imagined
a land where we were unbreakable things

“sounds much too safe” you chide
and i nod, quite certain

how boring, no fear of breaking
in the act of love–no real test
of another surface against one’s own–nor ever
the measure of what a mirror can take…

“Do you see? Everything is poetry waiting for us to write it, correct? Then everything is a mirror waiting for our projection.”

“Yes. The flora that bears fruit as an artist, for example; what Roland Barthes called, “the death of the author,” here, the tree speaks, “I have built this thing of myself – take it and do with it what you wish without me.”

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The prompt then can be extended into any object or stimuli whatsoever. I found myself driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway on my way to an ASL convention and as an interpreter I found myself provoking my surroundings with how they would act within the framework of needing to hire an interpreter for communication means. The clouds in the above picture were an easy call; they would hire a poet to convey their message, their intents.

I considered the crepuscular moment on the French Quarter from the perspective of a writer of haikus searching for its perfect kireji; that precise expression that indicated a cutting and joining of thoughts and content and filled its readers with awe. It was in that 4 a.m. growl where the night was turning into morning. I considered this further and found unconsciousness attempting to find the same thing and it was in that involuntary, effortless and automatic instinct where we wake up from sleep.

What is the chess piece going to convey about its purpose if it were a carpenter?

I, joyously, came upon the idea of how an entomologist would behave if she were a bartender and all her clients were spiders; tossing the balled up and thumb and forefinger squashed remains of last night’s drunks at their webs – knowing their tipping is the most gracious of all – she gets to keep living.

The chair, if it was a priest?

The painting if it was a mathematician?

The cigarette if it were a scientist?

If Siddhartha were to watch a symphony?

If the Buddha himself were driving down an endless I-79 South?

What would their poems convey?