How To Survive Living In a City Going to its 2nd Super Bowl in A Row When You Don’t Care About Football: An Epiphany

So…I’m not into football.

So…I recently moved to a city with a team going now to back-to-back Super Bowls.

The Seahawks’ blue and green is everywhere, I mean everywhere. I mean dictionary editors are rewriting their definitions of ‘ubiquitous’ to take the prevalence of Hawks paraphernalia in Seattle into account. I mean every business in town that has dress codes or uniforms now officially includes in employee handbooks “or just head to toe Hawks gear, that’s cool too.” I mean the “12th man” flag* flies from cars, yards, windows, balconies, construction cranes, high-rises, busses, ferries, church readerboards with the message lined up to read “Services at 10 so you can be home by “12””, the Space Needle, people’s ears, people’s dogs, people’s kids’ Lego castles. I mean at a production of Measure for Measure a board member of the Seattle Shakespeare Company with perfectly bobbed silver arts patron hair and an expensively tasteful outfit came on stage, gave her nice patrician welcoming speech, then flashed open her sweater to reveal a jersey and yelled “GO HAWKS!” and then the play started. I mean my mother is now raving about Cam Shamwow “just leaping like a gazelle over the other guy. Like a gazelle.Continue reading

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A 2014 Reconnoiter

Dawned cold in Seattle this morning, which means it’s clear and gorgeous, mountains out. Hello, 2015, good to meetcha.

I’ve been out of school for ages now and am not a teacher, but fall still always feels like the real start of the year to me, calendar and tradition notwithstanding. This year in particular — I got a big new job and moved to Seattle in October, a brand-new start on all fronts. (I even have new hair! growing it out after something like 15 years of having it very short). And years are funny anyway, some have those moments you can specifically date, when someone close died, when someone had a wedding, when you got your puppy. Other years you remember but can’t date, that year we all had terrible coughs on Orcas Island and had to sleep sitting up in the beach chairs in the living room, which year was that? that year the family friends’ boys so entertainingly hog-tied their mother’s pugs with Christmas ribbons, which year was that? the year I finally broke down and started texting, which year was that? the year I read like all of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels back to back, which year was that? And now I’ve got my Portland years, nine of them, and fairly soon I won’t be able to remember which apartment I had while I had with which job, which year I started going to Stumptown for coffee every morning, which year my writing group started. Continue reading

Bessie Smith & Bessie Smith

Here’s a two-fer Music Poems post (since I missed November by a mile) — two with Bessie Smith, the ‘Empress of the Blues’ who had an unsurpassed voice and was in her time (the 1920s) the highest paid black performer around.

First up, Jericho Brown’s “Langston Blues“. I saw Jericho Brown last weekend at a Copper Canyon Press shindig in Seattle and holy moly is he a great performer! He was mesmerizing and his work was beautiful (not pretty beautiful, hard beautiful). I strongly urge you, if you have the chance to hear him live, to take it.

[…]

Let my words

Lie sound in the mouths of men
Repeating invocations pure
And perfect as a moan

That mounts in the mouth of Bessie Smith.
Blues for the angels kicked out
Of heaven. Blues for the angels

Who miss them still. Blues
For my people and what water
They know. O weary drinkers

Drinking from the bloody river,
Why go to heaven with Harlem
So close? […]

Continue reading

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Briefly Reviewed: the Catch-up Edition

Briefly reviewed: City Boy by Edmund White (2009) | Almost Invisible by Mark Strand (2013) | Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger (1990) | The Fiddler in the Subway by Gene Weingarten (2010) | A Lady’s Life in the Mountains by Isabella Bird (1870s)

I’m behind on my what-I’ve-been-reading posts (moving+new job = such things!) so here’s a catch-up Briefly Reviewed, briefer than usual. This list includes two of the best-written non-fiction books I’ve ever read, and some really excellently executed prose poems.

Continue reading

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Rambo and Rimbaud at the Seashore

Delightful to open my email today and see that Bellingham Review‘s latest issue is up…including my poem “The Vagabonds, Now Mortgage-Bound” — in which Rambo and Rimbaud “are living out their golden years / together in a house on the coast / with ropes and buoys decorating the deck.”

I wrote this poem several years ago — part of a whole series I wrote mashing up the 80s action symbol and the French Symbolist bad boy — and it’s really fun to see it out in the world at last. You can read the whole poem here: “The Vagabonds, Now Mortgage-Bound.”

 

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Traumerei

October’s music poem: Linda Bierds’ Traumerei.

You will have to forgive me — I just moved apartments, cities and jobs (hello, Seattle!) — for leaving you with just this for this month’s Music Poems post. Read Linda Bierds’ “Traumerei“.

(If you want to know more, read it while listening to Traumerei. Or read this about Schumann’s Traumerei and this about Schumann’s life, and then read Linda Bierds’ Traumerei again while listening to this Traumerei.)

And then come back and we can get into an argument about whether or not ‘knowing what it’s about’ matters to the beauty of the poem…

 

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Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

My review of Jeffrey Bean’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window is up at Smartish Pace, check it out. (Spoiler: I think it’s great.)

 

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I previously wrote about Bean’s poem “Minor Seventh” for June’s music poems post.

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Que Sera Sera

A. Van Jordan’s “Que Sera Sera — this month’s Music Poems post. Oh, this is a great poem. The music descriptions are great, the stream-of-consciousness build of momentum is great, the dual layer descriptions of the experience of being pulled over for “driving while black” are great, the circular pull back at the ending is great. For instance look at how many different ways you can read the words “light” and “color” and “within your flesh” and “you’re on your feet” in this passage, after the speaker, who has been listening “to what / sounds like Doris Day shooting / heroin inside Sly Stone’s throat” (this song) while driving through Black Mountain, North Carolina, is pulled over by a police officer, and the questioning makes his hands “want to ball into fists.”

But, instead, I tell myself to write a letter
to the Chief of Police, to give him something
to laugh at over his morning paper,
as I try to recall the light in Doris Day’s version
of “Que Sera Sera”—without the wail
troubling the notes in the duet
of Sly and Cynthia’s voices.
Hemingway meant to define
courage by the nonchalance you exude
while taking cover within your flesh,
even at the risk of losing
what some would call a melody;
I call it the sound of home.
Like when a song gets so far out
on a solo you almost don’t recognize it,
but then you get back to the hook, you suddenly

recognize the tun and before you know it,
you’re putting your hands together; you’re on your feet—
because you recognize a sound, like a light,
leading you back home to a color:

rust. […]

And then the poem goes into its long and excellent dive into memory around the color rust. Great stuff.

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Matthea Harvey’s “The Oboe Player”

This month’s Music Poem post, Matthea Harvey’s “The Oboe Player” from her 2000 collection Pity the Bathtub its Forced Embrace of the Human Form.

“His lips are full, but to play he must fold them in, / make a tight line of those wet curves” begins Matthea Harvey‘s sensual “The Oboe Player”. “It is shocking to see / them sprout out again when he finishes playing a long note” it continues, opening a poem full of luxurious descriptions.

The poem moves between the audience’s reactions to the power of the oboe player (“Those who pick / at their programs wish his solo were over, others look down / thinking he would only have to look at a bundle of green twine / and it would burst into flower”), the other musicians’ and the conductor’s reactions (“The conductor who approached the podium resolving / to rein him in abandons his brisk baton strokes, succumbs / to swaying”).

And the oboe player’s relationship with his own playing: Continue reading

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Briefly Reviewed: Russia, Philomena, Traitor’s Blade

Briefly Reviewed: Martin Sixsmith’s Russia and The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, and Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade.

Martin Sixsmith’s Russia: A 1,000 Year Chronicle of the Wild East was just what I wanted it to be — a basic survey, condensed, of course, but not dumbed-down or super gappy, of 1,000 years of Russian history, emphasis on the 21st century, written in lively, easy-to-read prose with his particular point of view on things argued well enough to disagree or agree with with clarity as you’re reading. If you already know a lot about the USSR, this book will probably bore you. If you have forgotten what happened while you were alive if you’re old enough for that, or what you learned in high school European history if you’re younger, and are interested in the Cold War again because you are watching The Americans (and if you aren’t watching The Americans, you should be because it’s one of the best tv shows out there right now), it’s a good choice.

Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee (now misleadingly retitled just Philomena to match the movie) was on the other hand disappointing and unrecommendable.  Continue reading

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