Thursday, May 31, 2012



This is not about a man
standing in front
of a certain slot machine
for hours, staring.
This is not about
the expressions of people
seated or standing about.
This is not about
the balance of a woman,
dipping at the knees
to serve a drink.
This is about
dark chocolate.
This is not about music
made by spinning reels
or tinkling bells or
a message that could
be encoded in the flashing
of the lights.
This not about
the all night party streamers
of a waitresses' hair,
about how much grace inflates
the life rafts of her lips
or what taunts
from the tone
of her skin.
No, this is simply
about dark chocolate.
About what
could make it liquid
in the mouth.
This not about a woman
walking past and checking
her side view mirror
to see if he's watching.
This isn't even about
which candy he
may or may not desire
as he swipes his card
in the register of longing.
This is not
about a bar.
This is about
dark chocolate.
About how it
melts and sticks.
This isn't about
how the arrows of some eyes
narrow if he doesn't speak or
the mariachi band of
laughter from certain
lips when he does.
This is not about a man
standing in front of a bank
of thieving machines
dreaming of symbols
lining up on a reel,
not about
a progressive jackpot.
This is about
dark chocolate.
This is not
about smiling through
reclining eyelids
or softly licking
the lips
This is about
what gets
wagered on
the tip of a tongue,
about being
lost in a bet,
about what
moistens the mouth
on the slow cab ride
from the airport
of possibility
to the center of
the city of sighs.

Recently I was featured in an article on the Poetry Foundation's website, that included this quote from a long time friend Kenneth Carroll;

"From the time I met Renegade, he carried around a deck of cards. Poker is perfect for his OCD. I’m not surprised that he’s managed to make a ‘life’ of poker playing, given especially that he has no desire to work like the rest of us stiffs. From his days of voluntary homelessness to his three-year obsession with finding the true author of Shakespeare’s writing, he must find something to obsess about, and usually it involves poetry, poker, or women he has no chance of ever getting.”

Pretty much everything that Kenny said here is true with one exception; I do have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I also however have OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), a related condition that is often confused with (but different from) OCD. OCPD is one of nine Personality Disorders listed in DSM IV and one of the least known. The joke among psychiatrists is that people with OCD make themselves sick, but people with OCPD make everyone around them sick. Like all other mental illnesses OCPD has a stigma attached which makes it very difficult for people who suffer from it to publicize that fact. OCPD differs from OCD in several very significant ways; one is that people with OCD know that there is something very wrong with their brains and want relief from their obsessions and compulsions, people with undiagnosed OCPD don't think there is anything at all wrong with them, they think it's everyone else that has the problem. I was lucky to be first diagnosed at 18 by a USAF psychiatrist and when he told me, I thought he was completely full of it. It was only after he started telling me things about myself that I thought no one could possibly know (even if they followed me around 24/7) that I realized he might be correct. After a pretty vigorous debate (which I lost) I accepted the diagnosis and agreed to attend therapy. Like Jack Nicholson's character in 'As Good As It Gets,' I arrived, stayed for one session and never returned. The symptoms of OCPD are as follows;

A pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

Is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost

Shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met)

Is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity)

Is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)

Is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value
Is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things

Adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes

Shows significant rigidity and stubbornness.

Unlike most people with OCPD I don't have a need or desire to control others around me, in fact I tend to avoid positions of authority. Therefore I also don't have the anger issues that many have, as I am willing to accept the (perceived) shortcomings of others. Although I lack many of the classic OCPD symptoms, the ones I do have are pretty severe. I am preoccupied with details, something that is greatly exacerbated by my IQ; the normal level of detail at which my brain functions strikes most people as needlessly excessive, but it is merely a result of my ability to process very large amounts of information very quickly. This can be both good and bad, women are often greatly flattered when I comment on some extremely specific aspect of how they are dressed or adorned because they think it means that I'm paying close attention. For example a dealer at the Taj recently changed the angle of her short Bob after many years of wearing her hair the same way. As soon as she sat on my game, my brain pointed it out to me, I haven't said 10 words to this woman in the 8 years she has been dealing to me, nor do I give a flying fuck about hairstyles, but I am hypersensitive to any change in routines. So I commented on the change, she was evidently very nervous about it and asked me if I liked it, I did and said so. It made her day and now every time I see her she's all smiles. This happens to me frequently, I learned long ago that women interpret this to mean that you are paying attention to them (something they crave), I also learned not to tell them the truth which is that I notice these things about every single person I ever come across. Sometimes, the outcome isn't so positive, 8 years ago when the Poker Room was downstairs, there was a waitress at the Borgata (we'll call her M.) who used to wear a silver charm bracelet on her left ankle under her stocking. Everyday if she passed me I would look down at her ankle to see which charm was on the outside of her ankle that day. One day it wasn't there and I pointed that out, she said that she had broken the clasp that morning while showering. When she went back to the Service Bar she evidently mentioned it to another waitress (we'll call her T.), T freaked out and told M that I must be some kind of stalker or why else would I notice such a thing? M was at least kind enough to come and talk to me about it, T never spoke to me again and looked at me like I was crazy and avoided me assiduously for the rest of the time she worked there.

I have never been accused of being a workaholic or of being meticulously neat. I'm pretty sure though, that my obstinacy is legendary. I am also hyper literal with language. And although I have never (until now) admitted to it, I am also a hoarder. If you know me well, you know what I hoard, although you probably never thought of it this way. I hoard data, as much as possible, as frequently as possible. All of it neatly stacked and categorized in my inner closets and cabinets. If you are one of the hundreds of people who have ever asked me "How the fuck do you know that?" after I offered up some arcane, but germane fact, now you have your answer. My hoarding was made immeasurably worse by the fact that for most of my adult life I had close to perfect recall, so I could pretty much never run out of room to store things. Like most people with OCPD or OCD I have certain rituals that I must perform everyday, for example, from age 18 to age 48 I never left my house without a deck of cards (either Bee or Bicycle brand) and I would shuffle them constantly, no less than 100 times every day. This ritual was very calming for me, but the thought of being without a deck of cards was absolutely terrifying. Then one day it just stopped. I am super fortunate that none of my rituals are repetitive. But I can become obsessed with anything at anytime. I have eaten the same breakfast at the Borgata Buffet for 8 years, once a friend asked me if I ever got tired of ordering the same thing, the question didn't even make sense to me. Most of my rituals are things that normal people do anyway and thus are fairly inconspicuous, but a few aren't. Probably my oddest and most obvious ritual is that when I'm served a drink by a waiter or waitress at a poker table I can never be given a napkin. In the ten years since I began this ritual there is only one time that I was given a napkin without having a mini panic attack. I don't dislike beverage napkins, (in fact if I spill my drink I'll ask for one), but I can't be given one with my drink. This often confuses normal people who think that the obsession is in some way related to the object. Think of it this way, if a record skips and repeats a certain passage of music, it isn't because that music is special or beautiful or extremely well played, it just because that's where the weakness in the groove of the record happened to be. The actual music itself is irrelevant to the fact that the record is skipping. In fact, one of the major problems that people with OCPD face is when others personalize their behavior. Another of my obsessions is that all data or logic that I come across must be as accurate as possible. This means that if I'm talking to someone and they say something that I know not to be true, I'll correct them, usually very politely, but this quite often leads to debates where the other person can become very emotional or upset. But I don't care, I just want the logic or data to be correct. In my understanding of the world, it would be a huge moral failure on my part for me to allow someone to walk around saying something that is factually incorrect. Does that sound crazy? Of course it does to most people, but it's a rule that cannot ever be violated for me. If a person proves me wrong (with documentation) I will thank them. This is because I feel like they have done me a huge favor. This often confuses people with think that I'm obsessed with being right. One of my favorite jokes is to tell people who accuse me of being overly technical, "I'm not technical. I'm specific" They never seem to get it. Of course, they think I'm the one who doesn't get it.

OCPD tends to run in families and my grandfather on my mother's side almost certainly had it. He was infamous for "knowing everything" and especially for holding others to extremely his (extremely high) standards and becoming very angry (and sometimes abusive) when they didn't measure up. All of my aunts and uncles and most of us grandkids have stories about going to work with Papa. Out of all of us I'm probably the only one he never yelled at or hit. The reason was simple, the first time I ever worked for him he sent me to get a hex wrench, I didn't know what a hex wrench was and told him so, he asked me if I was stupid, I said no, I'm quite bright actually, but I don't happen to know what a hex wrench looks like. He told me to go and figure it out, I refused to budge, I told pointed out to him that if he explained it to me things would go a lot quicker. There was a split second where I thought he was about to knock me silly, but he didn't, he described the wrench and I went and fetched it. We were cool after that. My OCPD saved me, because I wasn't going anywhere without specific instructions. My father was known for his meticulousness, I remember once when I was eight or nine I picked up some coins off his dresser to show my younger brother a magic trick. When I finished I placed them back exactly (I thought), when my father came into the room he demanded to know who had been playing with his change (which we were forbidden to touch), I of course lied and insisted it wasn't me. He insisted that one of us had and that therefore he would beat both of us. I didn't want my younger brother to get a beating for something I'd done, so I fessed up. After I got punished I asked him how he knew I'd touched the coins, given that I had put them back exactly. It turns out that not only did he align all the heads the same way (which I had observed), he also had them arranged by date, with the oldest coin on the bottom.

Like many people with OCPD I am aided in my work by my condition. Many poets claim to revise obsessively, but I actually do. I write mostly poetry because it would be very hard for me to finish a short story or a novel. The poem above is my first attempt to deal with my OCPD in my work and the first I've written that involves one of my rituals. For about three months I was completely and utterly obsessed with the Wizard of Oz slot machine at the Borgata and would spend hours each day standing in front of it waiting for the Wizard to speak. Like shuffling cards, the Wizard's voice had a calming influence on me that was inexplicable and entrancing. If I had to guess I'd say it was because it took me back to a specific moment when I was a kid and first saw the movie (which it did), but why that calmed me I can't say. I do know that I had to stand there like a crack fiend waiting for the Bonus Round to hit so the Wizard could speak. The 'dark chocolate' is a symbol for something that I'm obsessed with and the waitress is one of the three women in my life that I've been obsessed with. Probably 90% of all the love poems I've ever written are to one of those three women. I also write more and better (about everything) when I'm obsessed with a woman. I really, really wish this wasn't true, but it is. At least this means that me and Dante Alighieri have at least one thing in common. This poem is huge for me because until I wrote it, I never really realized that I was obsessed with these women, I thought I was just in love with them. It was probably really obvious to everyone else, but you're always the last to know. Kenny's quote closed the deal. Understanding that I may have been in love, but was definitely obsessed is freeing for me in so many ways. Over the last two years I've been slowly coming to terms with the ways that my OCPD impacts my life that I was previously unaware of. Dealing with this last woman has been a huge part of that because it was trying to communicate with her that first made me want to change things. One of the most important things anyone with OCPD can do is to acknowledge it and its impact. One of the ways you do this is by making a list of your rituals so that you can be aware of all of them and begin to lessen their impact on your life. For me, just the idea of the list is terrifying, who wants their craziness enumerated and organized and staring back at them from a sheet of paper? I don't even know how many rituals I have, but it's over thirty for sure. I'm going to make that list, maybe not today, but soon. If you're like me or think you might be, get help, it's never too late. You can significantly improve the quality of your life (and your loved ones). One of the worst things about OCPD is thinking that you don't need help. Yes, everyone else is stupid (and wrong), but that doesn't meant that you can't use some help too.

Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

On Form

In a recent interview (found here) Kalamu ya Salaam asked Amiri Baraka a few questions about form. An excerpt follows;

BARAKA:What became clear to me is that if you adopt a certain form that form is going to push you into certain content because the form is not just the form, the form itself is content. There is content in form and in your choice of form.

SALAAM: Is there content or is there the shaping of content?
BARAKA: No, I'm saying this: the shaping itself is a choice and that choice is ideological. In other words, it's not just form. The form itself carries...

SALAAM: If you choose a certain form, then the question is why did you choose that form.

BARAKA: Exactly--Why did you choose that form?--that's what I'm saying. That's the ideological portent, or the ideological coloring of form. Why did you choose that? Why does that appeal to you? Why this one and not that one.

I was surprised at Baraka's answer, but I was equally surprised that Kalamu didn't challenge his response. Baraka is of course a legendary writer in multiple genres, but that doesn't make him right about everything. There are several aspects of his response that I want to question;

The idea that form IS content

The idea that form is content is an empirical statement that is relatively easy to confirm or refute. If this statement is true, then once one knows what form a poem is, then one knows the content. So if I tell you that my new poem is a Pantoum, what is the content? What if it's a Haiku, or sonnet, or even more interesting what if it isn't a traditional received form, but rather an orignal one that I created? The answer is obvious, knowing that a poem is a Pantoum tells you nothing at all about the content of the poem, except how it is organized. Knowing a poem is a Haiku lets you know that nature images will be involved in the poem, but still tell you nothing at all about the poem's actual themes, is it about solitude or amazement, for example? Even a form like the sonnet which was traditionally about love, stills only allows one to make an educated guess about the poem's actual content. Unless one is prepared to interpret Baraka's response in some figurative or metaphorical way, it must be considered demonstrably false.
The idea that form has an ideological coloring.

This is actually the more interesting of the two statements, the idea that form or choice of form has an ideological coloring. And while I agree with Baraka on this, I don't think that this is as simplistic as it seems. One can argue that if a poet chooses to write in a traditional form with content that is standard for that form, that the poet is conforming to the Status Quo. But it is also true that a poet can write in a form in a manner that is not traditional, for example Claude McKay's use of the sonnet for "If We Must Die" or Gwendolyn Brooks re-imagining of the sonnet in "First Fiddle, Then Fight." There is also the question of more subtle inversions like for example William Shakespeare's use of imagery traditionally used to describe women that he employs to honor a pretty young boy in his sonnets. Shakespeare pulls this off so well that many readers even now still don't notice that he is addressing a boy and not a woman. Is this a subtle stab at the heteronormativity that ruled in his day? If so, his choice of form is indeed ideological, but not in the way that one might suspect. We also must ask what is the ideological coloring of a form the poet themself has created? Is this a push back against the Status Quo? Or is the poet conforming by writing in any form at all. We should keep in mind that Free Verse is itself a type of form, give that it has certain strictures it must follow; no meter, no consistent rhyme scheme, to name just a couple. Until next we meet, may all your potatoes
be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bonbons and tiny Truffles

HOW TO READ A HAIKU (and get drunk)

Butterfly floating
over an orchid-
perfuming its wings

You ever been at a poetry reading where the poet reads a haiku and everyone else goes “Hmmm” and you’re sitting there with three Question Marks floating over your head? Or (more likely) ever read a haiku in a book or magazine and went “Huh”? wondering where the rest of the poem was, or why you didn’t get it? Well. Me too! (Granted, I was three years old and just learning to read, but still.) How come come haiku are these strange little treats that some people really seem to enjoy, but that whiz by too fast or seem to not really have much filling for you? Well, the Right Reverend DJ Renegade is here to help you with that.

First, crack the shell and separate it into two parts. Then place it softly on the tongue, close your eyes, rub the juice of it across your gums and let the moment marinate. Hold your breath to fully savor the aroma. Then slowly, swallow and exhale.

But seriously, since haiku are poems, the first rule of reading a haiku is the first rule of reading any poem: if you come to the poem like you come to any other kind of writing (a story, an essay, a text message, this article) to find out what the words mean, then guess what? YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! Because unlike other forms of writing, the meaning isn’t the central purpose of a poem, which is not to say that it is of no importance, just that there are other things; rhythm, sound, and alternate meanings, that are just as important. So if you don’t come to a poem to find out what the words mean, why are you there? To find out what the words do. How do they feel in your mouth, roll off your tongue, shimmer in the air? What kinds of things do they make you see, hear, smell, feel, recall? And last, but not least what possible meanings do they convey, not meaning in the singular, but meanings (you don’t have to choose between them). What do the words do, in all the ways that they do them?

So what do haiku do? Or at least, what are they trying to do? Before we can answer that question, let’s start with what they are (or aren’t). Your Sixth Grade English teacher told you that haiku are seventeen syllable Japanese poems about nature, written on three lines in a 5-7-5 syllabic format. And she (or he) was wrong. Well, the Japanese part is true of their origins at least. Actually, everything except the three line part and ‘the about nature’ part, are mostly true of haiku in Japanese. But we aint reading and writing in Japanese, so that doesn’t really help butter our biscuits. So forget 17 syllables, forget 5-7-5. forget three lines. Most of the poems you will encounter in English that are written in this format aren’t actually haiku. They might be funny, they might be insightful, they might be really well written poems, but they aren’t haiku. What are they then? They’re really, really short skirts. I mean skits, I mean, (wait what?) They’re epigrams actually. 5-7-5 epigrams, which are sort of like telegrams, (except they’re better written and cheaper to send). 
So what do real haiku do? (And why is this longwinded bastard with the big feet and the powdered sugar all over his shirt taking so long to make his point?) The first thing you need to know is that haiku recreate a specific moment in time, a moment that the poet experienced (or imagined) and is trying to recreate. A haiku is about a specific instant and your job as a reader is to relive (or imagine) that particular instant in time. What happened in that instant? I’m glad you asked, what happened is that the poet saw (or imagined) two images, two real concrete things that they then experienced as a contrast or comparison or as being associated in some way. And yes, at least one of those images must come from Nature (a ‘kigo’ or ‘season word) for the poem to be a haiku. Which is very different from the poem being about Nature, but we digress . . . Your main job as the reader of a haiku is to hold up those two images and see, hear, taste, feel them in one moment of time. To reconstruct the “Aha!” moment the poet had. In order to do this, you must be able to separate the poem into its two parts. Haiku in Japanese have something called a “Kureji”, a cutting word, that signifies a break in the poem. But we’re reading in English where there is no such thing, so haiku poets in English often use a dash (-) or multiple spaces to signify the break. Once you know where the break is, you know what the two parts of the poem are, in a three line haiku, (one part is usually two lines and the other is a single line, but either section can come first). And once you know what the two parts are, you know what you’re supposed to be comparing or contrasting or associating. Often times the contrast is in what you expect and what you get. For example;

into the sunken hearth
they're swept-
red leaves

translated by David Lanoue

One expects maybe dust or ashes or trash to be swept into a hearth, but not leaves. Leaves we expect to be swept into piles and sometimes burned, but not in that particular place. One expects the red in the hearth to be flames, not leaves. And of course the red of the leaves will some feed red flames. The poem is also a comment on the passing of time and the impermanence of all things.
So you do it, and then you too can go “Aha” or “Hmmm” or “Ooooh!” and be intoxicated with a moment by being filled with whatever emotion; joy, sadness, loneliness, surprise, amazement, gratitude, sense of solitude, frustration, or wonder that the poem was trying to convey. And while it’s true that haiku by rule can’t contain simile or metaphor, that every image be real and concrete, that doesn’t mean that one or both of those concrete images can’t also function as a metaphor or symbol beyond their literal meaning. And so what a haiku is “about” is sometimes very different than what one might expect from the images involved. Sometimes the images can even function like a Zen koan or riddle which illustrates a larger philosophical point. The most famous koan is probably “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” And since one hand can’t clap, the answer is- Silence. So don’t worry if you don’t necessarily “get it” right away, just enjoy the moment, it may come to you at some later point. Let’s take a look at a few haiku to put our new knowledge into practice.

Awake at night--
the sound of the water jar
cracking in the cold.

-Translation by Robert Hass

Ever notice how when you can't get to sleep it seems like every sound is magnified? Here the water in the jar is freezing which expands and causes the jar to crack, what breaks the jar breaks the silence too.

Moon at twilight- a cluster of petals falling from the cherry tree


Here we have the moon rising as the cherry petals fall. Next up;

Navajo moon
the coyote call
not a coyote

Garry Gay

Here we have a seemingly idyllic scene until we realize there is a human (most likely a hunter) present. What other emotion does this create for you, dread? Excitement?

What haiku do is create a pool of words for the poet’s thoughts to be reflected in. And currently in English, serious haiku poets don’t worry too much if those words have exactly 17 syllables total, (although they don’t exceed that number) 15 is fine, as is 12, or 10. They also don’t worry about the 5-7-5, they just make sure that if it’s written in three lines that the middle line is longer. But one line or two lines is perfectly fine. There are a ton of haiku available on the Web, also check out the Norton Anthology of Haiku. And in case you were wondering (I know you weren't, but it's a pet peeve of mine) the plural of "haiku", is "haiku."  One more before we go;

out of a peony-
a bee


So, now there’s one more thing for you to ponder and one less thing for you to not understand. And, until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Be (Real) Good (Hands)

With his first (Grammy nominated) album 'Water,' Gregory Porter (no relation) served notice that he was an force to be reckoned with on the Jazz horizon. Not only with his genre defying, emotionally charged voice, but with his lyric writing as well. On the title track 'Water' Porter penned;

"Water pouring down the sidewalks/
cleaning windows clear to see/
washing gumdrops downside gutters/
resting chains and saving me/
greening gardens, drowning ants/
changing rhythms, bruising plants/
graying vistas soulfully . . . "

A lovely catalogue of images so perceptively captured is much more likely to be found in a poem than a song these days. So with the arrival of his Kamau Kenyatta produced sophomore effort "Be Good" a great deal was expected of Mr. Porter. And he has not disappointed, accompanied by his long-time bandmates Chip Crawford (piano), Emanuel Harrold (drums), Tivon Pennicott (tenor saxophone), and Aaron James (bass), Porter serves up one of the most organic, earthy and spectacular albums of the year thus far. If you haven't heard him, his voice can travel to all the rooms of the musical house; Jazzy stylings in the foyer; Blues in the cellar; Soul in the kitchen; Gospel in the attic; he's got grit and silk, brassy belts and velvety baritone rumbles. Three of the project's twelve cuts are Standards; "God Bless the Child" here delivered a capella is a testament to his ability to invest a lyric with his personal style and trademark emotional sincerity; on "Work Song" he carries the rhythm as he swings his hammer of a voice into the steel spikes of the song's notes; "Imitation of Life" is perhaps the only tune where his reading can be considered derivative, hewing closely to Earl Grant's original (Nat King Cole influenced) performance, albeit in a lower register. Although all three are superbly done, it's on the nine original tunes that Porter's supernova talent truly explodes. These include the plaintive "Painted On Canvas"; the uptempo playful romp of "On My Way To Harlem"; the soulful ballad "Real Good Hands"; the Donny Hathaway inducing "The Way You Want To Live"; the beautiful reminiscing of "When Did You Learn"; the earthy earnestness of Mother's Song; and the Bebop stomp of "Bling Bling". All of these songs are impeccably attired in the tasteful artistry of a combo that is tighter than three linebackers in the back seat of a Cooper Mini and committed to bringing out the very best in each tune. But two of the compositions really stand out for me. Opening with solo piano, "Our Love" is a song worthy of the Bill Withers' canon with its deceptively simple lyrical structure;

"They think we're weak, you're the reflection of my love/
We're incomplete, but you're the direction of my love/
Vultures are flying round the ramparts of, the towers of our love/
Don't it sound sweet, Our Love."

The second verse builds on the riff until a sort of emotional narrative emerges, Porter's voice may be the steak glistening in the center of the plate, but Chip Crawford's piano work forms the salt crystals that contrast with the black pepper flakes of Aaron's James bass and Emanuel Harrold's rhythmic garnish. Too much sauce would drown the subtle flavors of a great cut of beef and the ensemble clearly understands this, embellishing where needed, but otherwise showing perfect artistic discipline and allowing the tune itself to be savored. Porter doesn't sing notes, he breathes music in a way that only true artists can. His pitch or breath control are never in question, his vocal technique flawless. But by far the most impressive part of his singing is his ability to make you believe every eighth note, every syllable. He sings with an emotional gravity that must be heard to be truly understood. While his baritone has impressive range and multiple timbres, he employs it so subtly that one can be excused for not noticing how many octaves he has traversed or how many textures employed. There are many expertly painted eggs in this Easter basket of an album, but the one that most bears the imprimatur of Picasso is undoubtably the title track "Be Good (Lion's Song)." From the multiple facets of the lyric to the pure carats of the instrumental backing to the sheer sparkling addictiveness of the melody, this stone is the star of the setting. If such a thing as a blues waltz didn't exist before, it does once the bass line begins its acoustic saunter down the steps of the song's marble staircase three at a time. Skirting the surreal, the words tell a tale as old as the human heart-unrequited desire. The lyric is simply amazing, free of cliche, advancing by turning on itself and spiraling into a tale of heartbreak. When Porter pleads "Does she know what does, when she dances around my cage?" The question both is and isn't rhetorical, and the ache in his voice is enough to lubricate even the driest of eyes. This is a song for the ages, an instant standard, a contemporary classic. One wonders what Cassandra Wilson or Dianne Reeves or Al Jarreau could do with it, not to mention Ahmad Jamal, Sonny Rollins, or Wynton Marsalis. But for now this is Gregory Porter's masterpiece, bearing his signature alone. If there is any justice at all in this world this song will somehow find a place in the rotation of radio stations and thus the wide audience it so richly deserves.

Crawford's piano and Pennicott's sax both deserve extra mention for how they manage to shine both in support of Porter's voices and in their own brilliant solo moments. The album sounds as though every song was recorded with the entire ensemble present, as opposed to being laid down track by track. Producer Kamau Kenyatta can feel free to take as many bows as he wishes for a job extraordinarily well done.

Listen, go to the store right now and buy a pound of (Porter's) love. I believe it's on sale.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Right Reverend Renegade Remix

Who changed the title of the Blog??

*gets radio transmission through dental fillings*

If you're a regular reader of this space (pause for laughter) or even if you're a weird reader, you know I infrequently post poems and the random essay (usually related to poetry) or review of a book or concert or album or movie or box of powdered mini doughnuts (Wait, what?).

Well, I've decided to shake thangs up a bit and give regular blogging a try. This change is sparked in part by the realization that by far the most read posts here are prose. Three times as many people read my review of last summer's Sade concert than have read all but one of the poems I posted. It should have been a clear sign when my mother asked me the other day if I was still writing poems. If your Mama aint reading your blog, then . . . 
I'm slow, but eventually even my dusty three-legged pony gets there, so we'll give the peoples what they want. European Lesbian Porn!! (OK, maybe not)

Starting today we're going to try a new concept, blogging twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays), fifty weeks out of the year (just because I aint got no job, don't mean I don't need no vacation) on whatever subject catches my fancy. Every post will be at least three hundred words and will feature a song that I find thematic or apropos, they will include book reviews, movie reviews, the occasional rant and ruminations on current goings on, and of course essays on individual poems and aspects of poetry. I'll still post my poems (so yall can continue to not read them), especially the NaPoMo Haiku / Senryu which folk seem to actually read. Every post will include some Steel-cut Oatmeal, a Dealer button and a gray velour Apple Hat. Or not. But quirky humor will be present, I promise. To quote a poet (John Ashbery) whose poems I don't actually like;

No one really knows
Or cares whether this is the whole of which parts
Were vouchsafed--once--but to be ambling on's
The tradition more than the safekeeping of it. This mulch for
Play keeps them interested and busy while the big,
Vaguer stuff can decide what it wants--what maps, what
Model cities, how much waste space. Life, our
Life anyway, is between.

And if that don't float your boat, then feel free to fill your tub with Ripple. Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Lion's Song

I'm so feeling this song right now. Gregory Porter is an amazing talent and I highly recommend his new album "Be Good", it's maybe the best album by a Jazz singer since Cassandra Wilson's "New Moon Daughter." An instant classic; lyrics, music, arrangements, the whole kit and kaboodle. Check out Cave Canem's own Holly Bass dancing through this video, which was shot in DC at the Hirschorn.

Halfway in the day-
marsh reeds pushing up
through asphalt

Her eyes as
she learns Pushkin was Black-
Russian blue sky

Mother's Day-
a tongue slices through
a hot biscuit

Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

DJ Renegade On the Ones and Twos

NaPoMo is over and with it went one of the most tumultuous months I've ever experienced. Overall there was much more good than bad, and it ended on an upswing, even if I couldn't see that then. The last couple of Aprils have sparked nice creative surges for me, let's hope that continues. In other news, I'm taking applications for a new Muse, the job pays well, but it pays in poems. Woke up this morning happier than I've been in a long time. Good food will do that. Well, good food and good . . .

Swooping seagull-
scanning the bare beach
for a muse

Her eyes-
green pistachios
half open

(for Oscar Peterson)

Here what ten
fingers can spindle
from an ivory spine,

a bubbling
bathing ears
until a chartreuse sea
lacing white on the beach
becomes a curling
breeze rising
to kiss sandy lips

Listen to the terns
these riffs attempt
in a steel strung key
on a heavily knuckled board,
how softly the notion can
hammer a man

not the notes on paper,
though those, too -
but the way the A
tears through "paper"

not so much the tune
as being tuned
to the chord that
curls itself
across the hands,
not the joints,
but what jukes
between goodbye
and gone.

Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

To Whom it May Concern

This is not a poem,
although it may be a bouquet of digital roses,
or perhaps a Shamrock Shake hand carried in a cooler.
When I said I was happy for you,
I meant it.
I still do.
I am not angry with you
and hope the same
is true for you of me.
I wish you and yours nothing but the best.
The last three years have been a time of tremendous personal (and professional with respect to writing) growth for me.
Whatever interactions we have had have been a major part of that and I am tremendously grateful for that.
A flock of Thank Yous thick as a thousand starlings isn't large enough.
We appear to have differing ideas of friendship. Mine doesn't include the kinds of limitations or restrictions that yours evidently does. (My point here is not to judge you, simply to make a factual statement.) Thus we cannot, at this time, be friends. I hope you can understand this.
Going forward, I wish to sail on the calmest seas possible,
free of the drama of high waves or the thunder of sudden squalls.
Some ships pass and exchange semaphore, others sail by silently.
I will respect whatever mode of passing you prefer.
But I jumped the fence because the fact that I care about you doesn't mean that I was ever
going to be a pet unicorn and eat out of your hand every time
you walked by and sang my name.

As a purple clad cat from Minneapolis once said;
"I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain, I only wanted one time to see you laughing . . ."

Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Politics, Poetry, Privilege

One slight source of chagrin for me is the fact that despite my posting of hundreds of poems here, 4 of the 5 most read posts are essays. The 2nd most read post is a poem (I'm not telling which one) but mostly folks seem to read the essays about poetry. This week I was asked to guest blog over at About a Word. Despite my perpetual procrastination I managed to get something out. Thanks to Ruth Ellen Kocher for including me in such bright company. You can find it here.  Check it out, you may find something interesting . . .

Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).