Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Note on Tone

I wrote this piece to respond to a running joke on the Two-Plus-Two message board, in a Forum called Beats, Brags and Variance. There is a stickied post called "A Note on Tone" and another called "a New, New Note on Tone" that lay out the guidelines for what is and isn't appropriate. Some of the posters there (including moderators) posted some replies that both punned on and made fun of the original. One such post was called "A Note on Karl Malone" and was basically his Wiki entry, there were others like "A Note on Home Alone", and "A Note on Scones" So to have some fun and keep up the chops, I wrote this poem in that spirit. I used as end rhymes all the titles of the imitating posts

A New, (Blue) Note on Tone

Six-nine from his skully to his big-toe bone
eyes that sparkled like stream washed stones
shiny waves in his hair, skin a caramel tone
sported satin shirts that were exquisitely sewn
he preferred hot grits to cold corn-pone
had a thing for biscuits, never fucked with scones
he played First Trumpet to my slide trombone
my Ace-boon-coon, I rolled with him alone
the first # listed on my wireless phone
red to the rods and callow to the cones,
his rap was melodious, never a drone
he drank hot perfume, farted cool cologne
made pelvises sing and bed springs groan
he knocked up Alicia who I wanted to bone
was in love with Mary Jane, but married Joan
spent years in a cell with a porcelain throne
cuz he broke into her crib when she was Home Alone
dug Chris Webber, but hated Karl Malone
swung a bat quicker than Al Capone
always played his man, never played zone
played poker alnight, slept while the sun shone
rode a hundred bucking horses and was never thrown
died in his sleep before being fully grown
and was buried in a jacket of purple and roan
then eulogized in a Toast like the baddest man known.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

OK, so I took the CC group piece below as a starting point and using my contribution as the first line, wrote a new poem:


At the age of five I saw words
dancing like daffodils in a downpour,
turning my heart like a Lazy Susan.
I could feel that iambs were woolly but not white,
and saw that even inside nursery rhymes
there were waves of sheer darkness.
At thirteen I thought words mere vandals
scrawling slogans on the walls of the world,
even though some coiled inside me like cobras.
At eighteen I knew that
when the heart sang, the mouth closed,
since desire denied was my lone truth.
At twenty-five I wondered if words
could rise to greet us in the great beyond,
the holy ones swimming around the head like heat?
Was it true there was no notice in the mail to wait on,
no permission to give or get.
At thirty I wondered if it would be flagrant
to listen for the fluttering wings
of speech when silent walls surrounded.
If outside these closed windows, other open windows . . .
Then, one Sunday afternoon
while sitting at a chess table in Dupont Circle
locked into the logic of ‘If I do this, then he does that'
My opponent pointed westward down P Street
to rapidly advancing rain clouds.
He feared a dark menace moving in to drench,
and uttered a single word.
But in a sudden summer storm,
I saw black clouds billowing
like dust behind charging Knights,
heard in the call and response of flash and boom,
a Bishop blessing the communion
between White openings and Black endings.
Baptized in this rain of revelations,
cool against the skin as a quick wind
sending black rooks flying,
I tasted the Word's hidden tingle,
and my new tongue unleashed like lightning
across a blank page of startled sky.

Mano a Mano

Whenever I'm running bad at poker it seems like the poems start flowing. I was thinking about writing a poem for one of the waitresses at the Borgata, but instead I pulled out an old piece and re-wrote it:

(For Gigi)

When you toss your head
stirring the dark mystery of your hair,
how are the almonds of your eyes
suddenly so brown?
Why do your lips glisten,
ripe as an apple
rain recently kissed?
My hands have trekked
from Australia to Zaire.
Yet the tantalizing terrain
between the soft shore
of your forehead
and the brown beach of your feet
leaves them befuzzled,
grasping at air.
Lacking any compass,
nautical chart or North Star.
They have kayaked currents
on the Silver River,
rambled up the rocks
of Mt. Rainier,
even delved the depths
of the Mediterranean Sea.
But your passionate pout
may harbor more treasure
than any ocean’s sunken chests.
So these hands
dream of wandering down
the coiled conundrum of your spine
and up the twin exclamation points
of your thighs,
until they solve
every beautiful riddle
the country of your body contains.

after Pablo Neruda

Friday, November 03, 2006


I just picked up the new Al Jarreau + George Benson CD entitled "givin' it up". It is extraordinary, not good, extraordinary, the lineup of musucians alone made me buy it, without hearing any of the tunes first. I couldn't see how that group could go wrong, included are Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Patrice Rushen, Paulinho DaCosta, Stanley Clarke, Patti Austin, Jill Scott, Chris Botti, and so on. The material ranges from R+B to Smooth Jazz to Straight Ahead Bop. Highlights include; covers of Miles Davis 'Tutu' and 'Four', an instrumental cover of John Legends' 'Ordinary People', Seal and Crofts 'Summer Breeze' and Hall and Oates 'Every Time You Go away'. Great tunes, well played. I've also been absolutely in love with Joy Denalane, the German Soul singer. Her album 'Mamani' and its live DVD counterpart are very much worth the effort necessary to track them down. I also can't wait for Lura's new album which should be out soon. I also recently revised the poem below 'The man with the Blues Guitar' it is actually a decent poem now.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dodge 2006

Finally after all these years I got the chance to attend the Dodge Poetry Festival. I left Atlantic City at 3 Am Friday morning on my way to NYC, where I changed buses at Port Authority and caught an express bus to the DPF. I got there around 9:30 am on Friday and went straight to the Border's tent. I was browsing the books and came across Ross Gay's "Against Which". I had never me the brother, never heard him read and had only read one or two of his pieces before. I gave his book my personal litmus test, which is to read the first and last poems in the book. The first poem was so good I decided to buy the book right away, $120 later i wobbled out of the tent looking for something to eat. Went past the main tent where Jorie Graham was droning on about hedgehogs? (actually 'Hedgerows") The first panel I attended was Sekou Sundiata, he read some new poems and talked a little about his process, good poems good talk. Next up was the CC panel, it was lively whith Terrance playing a little of a Devil's Advocate role. The Q + A session afterwards was dominated by a woman who was obsessed with the idea that only people with Masters Degrees got accepted into CC. She refused to be convinced otherwise despite several testamonials from CCers in the audience. The high points of the whole Ferstival for me was dinner Saturday night at Applebees with 14 other CCers. Kamilah Aisha Moon was nice enough to give me and Aracelis Girmay a ride out there and back. While waiting for our food the three of us composed a group poem which follows:


Is it true that Shiraz is Arabic for Cabernet,
is it true that rain falls down, my heart,
is it true that words have crushes on each other,
is it true that the moon is the bottom of God's spoon,
is it true that fog rides the hill like a horse,
is it true that bluejays gossip in the trees,
is it true that poets crack questions like sunflower seeds,
is it true that the one I love sweetalked honey from the bees,
is it true that a cab will carry you through tunnel vision
to a field of ghosts pushing back into home.

This was followed by the 15 CCers in attendance writing a group poem on a piece of paper we passed around the bar.


I have heard that dactyls dance like daffodils in a downpour,
the heart jerks jackals from the jukebox,
sinners sing the prettiest in church,
true love is the only myth we desire,
when the heart sings the eyes must close,
children ease away then come barrelling back,
the end times come only when we let them.
I have heard there is nothing to wait for, no permission to give or get,
the dead do rise to greet us in the great beyond,
our living swims around our heads like heat,
outside that window, other windows . . .
words are savages ripping meaning from this world,
inside poems, writers live lifetimes of bliss and grief.
I have heard it is true to listen to the fluttering steps
into the sound of speech when silent walls might pinch,
the things we must do call to us,
begging crisp relief in a sudden summer storm.

Pretty cool, Huh?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Attention kiddies, I'll be hitting this Friday night (24th) at 8:30 pm,with Jazz saxophonist Rene McClean and his band at Cafe Nema (1334 U ST. NW) There will be another set at 11:00. I'll be performing mostly new stuff, but also some old stuff. There is a cover charge, but I don't know how much. I can promise you the music will be top-notch. I will be performing mostly new pieces, including some which are currently posted here on my blog. 'Radio Mali American Gothic Blues', 'Man Playing Horn', 'Hush Now', 'Twelve Ways of Listening to the Blues', 'Embouchre', and maybe one of the two new villanelles. [I eat for love] is probably stronger as a poem, but 'Chant for a Hazel-eyed Hextress' seems to me like it might flow better with music. Anyway, those will all be on my set list, along with one or two oldies (Maybe Morna, since I've been revising it lately) I'll almost certainly do 'Can I Ask' from the CD, (Which I have renamed '16 Questions and a Desperate Wish') and 'The Idea of Improvisation' since it has a sax player up in it. We'll see, should be a lot of fun.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Last Trip to WallyWorld

(For Robert Johnson, after Wallace Stevens)
The man [hat cocked] picked at his guitar,
A traveling-man of sorts. The day was yellow.
They said, "You got a [Delta] blues guitar,
Can you play things colored as they are?"
The man replied [cigarette dangling], "Thangs as they are, Is colored different on a blues guitar."
And they said to him [Bible-eyed], "But play, you must,
A tune outside of you, but of yourself,
The [Gospel] truth on your blues guitar,
Of things colored as they are."
I can’t paint a picture quite square,
Although I stroke it with much care.
I don’t sing a man's shined shoes, gold tooth
or new suit, but his eternal soul,
I eye him as well I can and conjure
Him up with my mojo hand.
When I pluck him up, moody as the moon
Not sunlit like things as some say they are,
It’s a serrated howl traveling through
these fingers what pick a blues guitar.
A tune colored (as we are),
Yet somehow blued by the [moaning] guitar;
Ourselves [softly] humming as if in tune,
Yet nothing changed, except the place
Of things as they are and the notes
As he bent them on the blues guitar,
Played just so, the chords of change,
Heard in a damned juke-joint;
For an eternity damned, the way
The howl of hellhounds sound where
Even the hand of god is haze.
The tune stops time. The blues [thusly plucked]
Become the crux of things as they are,
The crossroads at midnight on a guitar.
Are these [Hellhound] blues his?
His devil of a delta guitar
Fills the [smoky] juke-joint with dancing women
In thrall with the moon. The yellow-eyed men
Of the women are now [dark] blue, and coming
For his [middle-parted] head that never lies
Alone at night. He picks a string of dilemmas.
Can he change the tune as it is? And how,
As he fingers his frets, can he
Escape that note which echoes
unlike an [eternal] resolution and yet,
Must be. Could the Blues be anything else?

Friday, March 10, 2006


Still on our theme of dissing Wally S. (Man Carrying Thing), or if one prefers "engaging the validity of his ideas" I like this piece, it started out as one of those 'let's just mess around and see what happens' type things and then boom, it kind of came together. I got really, really lucky with this piece. It's the type of poem where you don't know quite what it means, but you know exactly what it means.

Man Carrying Horn

A poem must entice
the sense almost mysteriously.

A noir figure front stage
Entices the open eye.

The muted horn he plays
can entice the most dumb ear.

Sense them then, as key

(notes almost perceived
as known melodies,
uncertain notation
 of certain chords,

the roots full of doubt,

notes floating like the last of Autumn Leaves
on a soft breeze that could last all night,
on a key breeze of cobalt notes),

A seduction of sensation
now deeply perceived.

We will bathe
In this seduction all night,
while the dark mystery

stands back-turned on stage.

(For Miles Dewey Davis
after Wallace Stevens)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thirteen Ways of Playing the Dozens

If you know my work, you know there's a couple of poems where I have beef with Wallace Stevens (Monday Poem, The Idea of Improvisation), there are several reasons for this, but at least one of them is that I'm not a big fan of his work. I respect his technical facility and ear, but all that 'jerking the poem to the left until it turns on itself' bullshit gets annoying after a while. He's also one of the few major American poets who was openly racist in his work (he titled one poem 'Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery') Anyway, I don't get mad, I get even, this is my riff on his famous Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

(This poem is of one mind,
like a crayon box
in which there are
twelve blues.)

Anyway here's the piece:


Along the guitar's six strings,
The only moving thing
Is the hand of the Blues.

I am of two minds,
Like a blues
Which makes you laugh,
Then cry.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and the Blues
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inhalations
Or the beauty of exhalations,
The Blues harmonica moans.

Bottles line the long bar

With exquisite glass.
The spirit of the Blues

Fills them, bottom to top.
The sound casts
Intoxicating spells.

O Snowmen of Hartford,
Why do you imagine blackbirds?
Do you not see how the Blues
Caress the collarbones
Of the women around you?

I know sassy women
And joyous, laughing rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the Blues is involved
In what I know.

When the Blues flow out of earshot,
They cause a rising tide
in many rivers.

At the sound of the Blues
In a district of red light,
Even violinists of the symphony
Would smile openly.


He rode through Mississippi
In a boxcar.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The moan of a passing train
For the Blues.

A bad moon is rising.
The Blues must be playing.

It was midnight all evening.
It was raining
And it was going to rain.
The Blues colored
The clouds.

To Live Forever

The sure path to poetic immortality is to write one great poem that everyone remembers. Much, much easier said, than done. Is it better to be a mediocre poet and write one great well-known poem or be a very good one, who only poets know?. I figure the villanelle is a good form for writing memorable poems, since they have musical song-like qualities and there aren't many great or memorable ones in English. Hey, it worked for Dylan Thomas. So I'm gonna keep hitting villanelles and try to get lucky and knock one out of the park. Plus, I find them fun to write, since it's a lot like solving a puzzle for me. The trick is to write the last couplet first and choose fertile end words (at least 15 rhymes available). Spend as much time as possible on these two lines, making certain they use vivid imagery and can constitute an argument. Then write the middle line of the first stanza, once again making sure the last word is fertile. You have then written 8 of the form's 19 lines. The rest is like solving an equation. Anyway, here's today's attempt. I like it more than the first, I'll certainly have a lot of fun performing it. The current title is OK, but I may change it if I can find the perfect one.


Some eat for love and take the tasting slow
The feel of food for them contains the treat
Salt and sour, bitter or sweet thus grow.

Who gulps champagne or swallows swift Bordeaux,
Is wine so special, meals cannot compete?
Some eat for love and take the tasting slow

A haste in chewing some will never know
Swiftness of tongue serves up desire's defeat.
Salt and sour, bittersweet thus grow.

A leg or thigh incites some eyes to glow,
What seduces like a marinated meat?
Some eat for love and take the tasting slow.

A luscious meal enchants with smells she throws
The caught aroma makes the tease complete
Salt or sour, bitter and sweet thus grows.

Food fills by going where it has to go
Some rather Morsels danced from cheek to cheek
I eat for love and take the tasting slow
Salt and sour, bitter and sweet thus grow.


Hello boys and girls, more haiku havoc;

summer drizzle,
ferns on my windowsill-

mom plaits girl's hair,
melting in the midday sun-
a jar of hair grease

moon in the window
I tip-toe to the bathroom-
cat's eyes in the hall

Winter morning-
the telephone poles wear
white caps

August heat-
a breeze swishes
the basketball nets

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Radio Mali American Gothic Blues

Yesterday was a sad day for art lovers the world over, seeing the passing of both Gordon Parks (photographer, filmaker) and Ali Farka Toure (musician). Being a poet, I dealt with my sadness by writing a poem. I was in a villanelle flavored groove, so that's what came out:

(For Gordon Parks and Ali Farka Touré)

Tell me once again, how the learning tree grows,
Do its roots burrow all the way to Timbuktu,
If its leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Malcolm X in his fury, “The Greatest” in repose,
Even Beggars in Paris your eye did not refuse.
Tell me once again how the learning tree grows.

The source of the Sahara was a river you composed,
In the heart of the moon flows a branch of brilliant blues.
Do its leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Now your limbs sag, with the weight of many snows,
Still your shutter sings on with moonlight as its muse,
Tell me once again how the learning tree grows.

Baobab, your gray bark nurtures poetry and prose.
Niafunké was wailing when your falling broke the news.
Do your leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Black and shining are the feathers of a thousand crows
Who alight and fill the sky with their darkening news.
They show us where the roots of the learning tree go,
If its leaves shade both lensmen and griots.


The word 'griot' is a rhyme word in this poem and is pronounced "GREE-o." American Gothic the photograph will probably be Gordon Parks most long lasting visual legacy. 'The Learning Tree' was Parks first Hollywood film. 'Radio Mali', 'The Source', and 'In the Heart of the Moon' are CD titles by Toure, Niafunke is the name of both a song and his home village in Mali.


So I did it, finally after 10 years and a million revisions, my manuscript of poems "Still Life" is finished, done, completo. This isn't the first time that I thought I was through, but it is the first time I knew it. Special thanks goes out to all the publishers who have rejected it over the years, thereby giving me a chance to polish it to its current level of sheen. Of course it's just going to keep getting rejected, but I don't care now. I know that I've done everything possible to produce the best poems I can. Now I can start working on the next one. I should have at least three by now, but hey, I'm lazy as hell and write slowly to boot. Below find the last poem that need substantial revisions, I may do more work to the MS, but it's all just touch-up now. The main coats have been brushed and rolled and are drying as we speak. This is one of the few poems I have written where everything is true. Enjoy;

(for Muskie and Dee)

Under a sapphire ceiling,
the three of us walk west
on Constitution Ave.
At 19th St. we become
black threads weaving
through a quilt of white tourists.
You and Denise ask me
what I remember of the war.
I recall in black and white,
helicopters swarming like locusts,
two men emerging from a jungle
bearing a bandaged comrade.
A Buddhist monk wrapped in robes
a warmer orange than
the flames which engulfed him.
I was barely old enough
to understand the flame's finality.
Our conversation fades as
we approach the book of names.
It says Robert Louis Howard,
Panel 22W.
You say Thua Thien, June 1969.
We round the corner
to the headstone of an era,
find an eternal funeral.
Who knows if the sudden hush
is reverence or shame.
Roses, wreaths and carnations,
bright as fresh blood
lean against the stone,
heads bowed.
A legless vet rolls by,
the eye of his camera blinking furiously.
The name sits
thirteen lines from the top.
The tallest, I’m drafted to make the trace.
I square the paper
shading to reveal a shade.
As I hand you the ghost of a name,
the arithmetic hits me.
The summer of ’69
found you in diapers.
All you’ve had for a Dad
is a folded flag,
and a Sergeant’s smile
on a curling Polaroid.
Slowly, the reflecting pools
of our eyes fill.
Trembling, you pose the question
that vexes still. Why?
We walk to the benches
trailing teardrops.
Denise hums a balm
as we huddle and rock.
Below us, three tight-lipped
bronze soldiers.
Above us, a flag spilling
like blood down a bayonet.
Above that, an August sky
almost blue
as the tremor
in Denise's contralto.

I don’t usually explain (or try to expand on) my poems, but this poem is different for me. It’s (obviously) about the first time I visited the Viet Nam Veteran’s Memorial, with my cousins Denise (Hugs and kisses, wherever you are) and Rob (What up, soldier?). I had lived in DC about 15 years at that point, but had never gone to see this particular memorial. I had once tried to go see it, but didn’t realize that unlike all the other monuments, it isn’t visible from the street. So I wound up going right past it and never finding it. Then Denise moved here and we started hanging out and one weekend Rob came down from Connecticut to hang out. I think my mother may have told me that Rob’s father had gotten killed in the war, I’m not sure. Anyway off we go, we took Rob to a couple different places on a mini site-seeing tour first and were all having a great time. We were laughing and joking as we walked down Constitution Ave from the Washington Monument. None of us had ever been to this monument and didn’t know what to expect. If there is anyone foolish enough to doubt the power of art to affect folks in the most powerful of ways, then just take them there and that will end that nonsense forever. The combination of the sculpture, the natural setting and the way the people interact with the monument, creates a very spiritual and moving experience. I was pretty composed until I handed the first tracing to Rob, after I saw the expression on his face, I started losing it. I fought tears all the way through the other 3 or 4 tracings and by the last one could barely see. When we went to the bench and sat down, I cried like I never have, before or since. And Denise just held us, two grown sobbing men and hummed that song. For me part of it was sadness, part guilt. I harbored a tremendous amount of animosity towards my father (See Silent Night or Father, Son), but at least I knew him and had spent time (some happy) with him. I felt bad for Rob like I’ve never felt for anyone. That day was a real turning point for me, in terms of putting things in perspective and beginning to deal with my own issues. I had the stuff about my Dad in earlier drafts, then took it out. I’m not sure if the poem is completely finished or not, but I can live with it as is. We’ll see

For XXXXX (Who may or may not have hazel eyes)

I have always loved Dylan Thomas' famous villanelle Do Not Go Gentle, and have always wanted to write one. So I finally got up the gumption. It's tough. But here's my first attempt, not too bad, I don't think, but hopefully I can do better in the future.


You see through skulls like they were cellophane.
Your eyes skip past skin, penetrate mere bone
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

You visit every room a mansion can contain
And know each hall or door as if your own.
You see through skulls like they were cellophane.

You spy the speed and angle of the rain,
calculate equations still unknown
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

Other women stared, but they all stared in vain
They could not comprehend if they were shown.
You see through skulls like they were cellophane.

You scan every angle, rule every plane,
Plotted all the paths my flights have flown
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

You sip my private thoughts like a champagne
squeezed from every grape I’ve ever grown.
You see through skulls like they were cellophane
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Loop the Loupe

Woke up again with the jeweler's eye, it's amazing, I look at my poems and can spot flaws as easy as a puddle of cat piss in the middle of the kitchen floor. However, I'm just about out of old furniture to refurbish. Anyway I wrote the original draft for this in under 10 minutes on a dare from Terrance Hayes, but would up actually writing something almost decent. Even though I was try to prove a point about how easy it is to write certain kinds of euphonic nondiscursive poems. So I cleaned it up and gave it more of a through-line. It's still got a fairly high level of difficulty, reading-wise, but I think will reward a careful reader who is willing to delve a little deeper than just the surface. But who knows, I could just be on crack. Anyway, this is the first (and so far only) poem in my series on Pittsburgh Jazz musicians.

For Roy Eldridge

A king in French, if not in France,
before the Penguin’s nest razed your realm
who ruled the Hill District's haunts?
Lacquer-lipped, monarchic,
you embraced hot brass, allowed no mill
to steal your wind. Hawkish notes,
Dizzying in their height,
dove through the ear's atmosphere.
Almost aortic how a little Jazz
flowed from the four-chambered nautilus
swinging hemo around the globe.
Still, your role royale was low-down,
gritty as homemade gravy, your lips
buzzing the brass ring in truly cerulean style.

17 Haiku

Once again, it's all about capturing a single moment's perception that contains some kind of contrast. Only Haiku must contain at least one image from nature and a 'word' that clearly indicates the season. Japanese Haiku of course, must have 17 or fewer onji, arranged in a 5-7-5 format. But JH are written on one line, since 5-7-5 is a normal onji distribution, even in prose. An onji is different than a syllable (the word Haiku has three onji since in Japanese all the vowels are pronounced, but only two syllables in English) I try to keep my Haiku under 15 syllables, but generally don't employ the 5-7-5 structure, since it makes little sense in English. Enjoy:

Spring breeze
my wiper blades fill-
with cherry blossoms

on the sidewalk
only the mailman's footprints
part deep snow

starry sky-
tip of the incense flickers

summer morning
my finger traces-
the cool headstone

September 1st-
the goalposts cast
a longer shadow

Cold night alone-
a mug of hot cocoa
is not enough

shelter at midnight
a drunk softly pissing-
the next bed

moonrise in the windshield
sunset in the rear-view

Spring darkness
a garbage truck grinds-
the chirping birds

behind the Carry-out
steam rises-
from yellow snow

shards of glass
beside the stare
of a stiff deer

May 29th-
only sunlight fills
this classroom

New Year's morning
the birds chirping-
too loudly

August night
police chopper drowning out-
the crickets

rainy night
alone in the darkness-
with All Blues

frost on the window-
under three blankets
I aim the remote

beached boat
beneath the worn planks-
a seagull's cry

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

I was feeling in the mood for a Shakespearean Sonnet, so I pulled out an old attempt and Damn if I did't still have the jeweler's eye. Gotta keep rolling til it fades. You never know how long it will last. Anyway here goes;

What Begins with the Period at the End of the Question.

I had just kissed Lisa ‘bye, was chilling
on the Johnson's steps halfway up the street.
Ronny and his brother Ray were swilling
Miller Lite and talking under the beat
of a rhyme rocking the radio. When
the Chevy squealed the corner, I could see
wild eyes squinting from the backseat, then
I thought they might be narrowing for me.
A pistol punctuated, so I ducked
behind a tree. Did my collar get caught?
I felt something warm, saw bright drops, went "Fuck"
but the ground got all wobbly. There was hot
breath asking, "Joel, you alright?" Then a crack
in my skull widened ‘til the world went black.

More Senryu Fun

Like haiku, senryu involve capturing a single moment of perception which contains some kind of a contrast. Often times when reading senryu I don't find the contrast right away, but I usually at least have some kind of intuitive 'feel' for what it is. Anyway I found these laying around and when I looked at them found I had the 'jeweler's eye'. So I spruced them up and here they are.

reading a haiku
about swirling dust-
I sneeze

beneath the robes
of a young Buddist monk-

like his diaper is full-
my son smiles

on the platform-
the scowl of a woman
who missed the train

old man pedals-
wooden cane swinging
from the handlebars



You swung harder than a twenty pound sledge
swifter than a bellydancer's hips
Swung steady as Pops on the porch at night
or the well-oiled hinge of his garden gate
Swung easy as a child from a knotty limb
or a bridge of rope in a raucous breeze
Swung in like the tide at six AM
out like saloon doors past last call.
Have mercy Mr. Ellington,
only you could swing an orchestra
like a hypnotist’s pocketwatch.
Where are those humid Harlem nights
you swung hard as a hammock in a hurricane
with nary a hair out of place?


Are the non nature-related humorous cousins of Haiku.
Five follow;

at the end
of the toilet paper roll-

as my tongue
enters your ear-
a shiver

August night-
this heavy air slows
even roaches

from the front row
of a famous poet's reading-
a snore

gray morning sky
my stubble in the mirror-

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On Tension

I use the word 'tension' a great deal when discussing poems. When I use the word in the context of poetry criticism, I mean it in a very specific technical way that is different than some of its other common connotations. Although I have been using this term in this way for about 10 years now, I had never really set forth a concrete denotation. I chose the word 'Tension' to replace the more commonly used 'conflict', not so much because I didn't think it was apt (although I didn't), but because to me the use of the word 'conflict' betrays the antagonistic imperialistic conquering impulses of Western culture. The word 'conflict is of course generally used when analyzing fiction or drama, poetry critics rarely use it, feeling that poetry works in different ways than those other genres. I felt that that analysis was in error and that the concept, no matter which word was used to describe it, was extremely useful in understanding how poems work. One of the things that I noticed was that all popular and great (two different things) fiction, drama and poems works by establishing and resolving 'tension' or 'conflict' if you will. This has NOTHING to do with the quality of the writing, a work can be poorly, mediocrely, or greatly written and have excellent tension/resolution, this is because T/R is structural and independent of the quality of the language and descriptions. In fact ALL bestsellers have excellent T/R, while only some are well written, the same is true of films/plays/popular poems. i also noticed that all of the great poems which have passed the test of time and are passed down through generations have excellent T/R, even though poetry critics almost never talk about or analyze this (and any meta-analysis is out of the question). Great works often fool us by appearing to ask one question and then at the end revealing that it was some other question all along that was central, this is often the case in poetry. So what do I mean when I say 'tension'? The easiest way of answering this is to note that a poem's central tension can be thought of as the central question that the poem asks and then addresses, notice I didn't say answers, because although all works attempt to answer the question (addressing it) they are not all successful and said success is NOT relevant to the resolution of the tension, a point which is all too often lost on even savvy readers and critics. Sometimes the questions are simply unanswerable, sometimes easily so. Much 'popular' writing poses such obvious questions that any good reader can see the answer coming as soon as the tension is established. The works with the best T/R usually surprise us in some way or offer an unexpected twist. Many great poems actually use a question as the rhetorical device that establishes the tension (I call these Interrogative poems), for example E.B. Browning's famous sonnet How Do I Love Thee? The poem then uses a list structure to provide answers to the question, e.g. "I love thee to the level of everday's most quiet need" the twist comes when at the end the speaker claims that no matter how much she loves him now, she will "love thee better after death". This provides and unusual and unexpected resolution to the initial question. Looking at a more contemporary poem Komunyakaa's My Father's Love Letters appears to have as its central tension the idea that the father beat his wife and now is sorry and wants her to return. So the central question appears to be "Will the father be redeemed by the letters in her eyes?" But of course the final lines ;

This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.

reveal that it is redemption in the speaker's eyes that drives the poem. One of the reasons the poem is so great is that it doesn't take the easy way out, the happy ending. Instead he is "almost redeemed" a much more honest and more likely result in the real world.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Gathering Ground

The summer poetry retreat/workshop for African-Americans known as Cave Canem (beware of the dog) has just released its 10th year anniversary anthology entitled 'Gathering Ground'. I got my contributor's copy a week ago and eagerly opened it. I was expecting it to be pretty good given the pool of poets from whom the work was drawn, but it turned out to be even better than I expected. Among the poems that I thought were real gems were 'Stewards' by Nikki Finney, 'Haint' by Teri Cross, 'Carapace' by her husband Hayes Davis, 'The Street of Look Behind' by Erica Doyle, 'Dreadlocks' by Toni Brown, 'Kind of Blue' by A Van Jordan, Christ and Magdalene' by Raina Leon, 'One More Silver Dollar' by Ernesto Mercer, and 'A Quiet Rhythm of Sleep' by Lenard Moore. But the most surprising thing to me was how little distance there was between the best poems and the weakest. The overall level of skill on display is incredible. Part of this is due to the fact that each poet has only one poem and part of it is due to the sharpness of the editor's eyes. Even if you don't read or like much poetry i would recommend this book. One of my biggest gripes about 'Academic Poetry' is that the overwhelming majority of it is boring as hell to the average intelligent reader (read-finely wrought, expertly described moments of no interest whatsoever). this anthology does not however suffer from that particular malady, most of the poems here will reward a reader richly, and a re-reader even more abundantly. Stylistically, the pallette is broad, incorporating Free Verse, Forms and self-styled Experimental Poetries. Aquire and Feast.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Return of the Prodigal

Guess whose back? Yours truly, after a half year of being away. I actually wrote a few poems and thought I would post one here and see if anyone is still reading. Lot's of stuff happened, but i still didn't post the Audre Lorde piece, Bad Poet! The Steelers did win the Super Bowl tho, HOOOOO and i got to watch it with my son, tre cool or something like that. Anyway here's the piece

Why I’m Alone this Valentine’s Day

Last week,
as I sipped a mug of tea
in your tiny sparse kitchen.
You pulled back your freshly twisted locks
and asked me why I love Earl Grey so much,
and what it might take
for me to love you as much.
I thought of standing downwind from
Latricia Johnson’s house
when her mother used to sit her on their front porch
and comb ruler straight parts into her caramel scalp
then dip two French manicured fingers
into that aquamarine, bubble-filled jar
with the distinctive smell.
How one Friday night at a quarter party at the rec
Behind the basketball court with the broken rims
I summoned up enough courage to ask the prettiest girl
In our projects for a dance.
For the life of me after all these years
I still can’t figure out
why she said yes
Knowing full well that I had less rhythm
than a grandfather clock with a broken pendulum.
Bobby DeBarge’s Everest high tenor
Spiraled out of the component set in the corner
And even if the stern hand of Alzheimer’s
One day washes the chalkboard of my memory
Clean as the first day of school,
I’ll never forget the bow in the strings
Of her yellow halter top or
the back pocket of her Chic jeans
Sliding across my shocked palms
As we shuffled awkwardly to the first verse of
‘I Call Your Name.’
How I asked her if she wanted to "switch"
dance partners and she didn’t get the joke,
but my nose was too deep
in her bergamot scented tresses
to even notice.

After savoring the last drop
I turned to you, and said
“The right hair grease.”

Not sure about the tense of the last three lines, but we'll see.