Levine’s Bud Powell and Matthews’ Bud Powell

For this month’s Music post, a look at two poems about jazz musician Bud Powell, William Matthews’ “Bud Powell, Paris, 1959” and Philip Levine’s “On 52nd Street“.

There are poems about the sound of the music, and there are poems about the musicians, and there are poems about the experience of music. It’s probably true that all music genres have a special hero worship to their culture, but it seems like jazz in particular has HEROES. (Rock music I guess more has rock GODS.) Both Matthews’ and Levine’s poems are about their jazz hero Bud Powell in less-than-stellar form. Continue reading

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National Poetry Month

It’s April, which means more people than usual are talking about poetry. And I’ll be talking about it more than usual on Twitter, linking each day to poems that mean something to me personally—poems that for whatever reasons I just love. With a tweet-length bit about why. (To be followed I imagine by a post at the end of the month looking at those 30 all together in some fashion.)


Briefly Reviewed: Rin Tin Tin & Stiff & Packing for Mars

Susan Orlean’s book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend tells three stories, well four. There’s the partly heartbreaking and partly inspiring tale of Lee Duncan and the puppy he found on a French battlefield and named Rin-Tin-Tin, there’s the legend of Rin Tin Tin in all his film, television, merchandising and dog breeding iterations, and then there’s the story of the changing place of the dog in Americans’ lives in the twentieth century, in our homes, in our wars and on our screens. It’s an engrossing read, and I found the balance of informational detail to pace just right (that’s always my litmus for a good non-fiction book).

And the fourth story is the story of Susan Orlean’s quest to find those other stories. Orlean herself is definitely a figure in the writing, not only why she became interested in Rin-Tin-Tin in the first place, but stating which topics she cares about, and is therefore delving more into than others, and why. (For instance mentioning that it’s unclear in many Rin-Tin-Tin movies which dog is actually playing the part, but not getting much into what is and isn’t provable about that, because that’s not something she finds very interesting). So it’s on that level a different style than, say, Dorothy Ours’ Man O’War: Legend Like Lightning, which I also highly recommend, but which isn’t about Ours’ personal story. I like Orleans’ voice, and found the occasional personal sections worthwhile. It’s a big-hearted book, without getting treacly.


I’ve read two Mary Roach books now, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Voidand I highly recommend both for learning, with just the right filter of humor and empathy, about the stuff you might never have thought to ask about the human body or if you had thought to ask wouldn’t have been sure who to ask (or might not have been sure you wanted to). But I also highly recommend not reading them while you’re eating— Continue reading

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“We still believe what we hear.”

For this month’s Music poem, I point you to Seamus Heaney’s “The Singer’s House

Like all great Heaney poems, and especially appropriate for a poem engaging with music, it is delicious to read/hear aloud. The give and take of the alliterative/echoing sounds, “a hint of the clip of the pick / in your winnowing climb and attack” to “Raise it again, man. We still believe what we hear” —oh, delicious. And the salt imagery builds more the more you read it. (There are a million more things to say about how this poem is built from a form and structure perspective which I might come back to in future, but this’ll just be a short post this month.)

In an interview in the Paris Review the late Heaney says this poem is about “the poet’s and the poem’s right to a tune in spite of the tunelessness of the world around them” and has more to say about the situations from which it arose, and of course there’s information about Carrickfergus and its salt mines and Gweebarra you can find online worth poking about in, but, as with all the best poems, that’s all not strictly necessary for an enjoyable first reading.





Almost time for “A Time to Write”

The next Saturday “A Time to Write” group at the Attic Institute starts April 12th—I’ve got a slew of great generative prompts designed to get your pen moving (I love coming up with prompts), revision exercises to nudge your brain into seeing an old piece in a new light, and you can also use the time as just a designated work session to work on whatever it is you’re itching to work on.

It runs for 5 weeks, Saturday mornings, 10am – Noon, April 12 – May 10. More details and registration. It’s a great opportunity for writers of all genres and levels to be proactive about being productive, to have fun, and of course to meet other writers. Spread the word to friends who might be interested, would you? After all, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” (Mary Heaton Vorse)


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William Matthews’ Janis Joplin

February’s Music post: William Matthews’ “The Penalty for Bigamy is Two Wives

William Matthews’ prose poem “The Penalty for Bigamy is Two Wives” has so many great descriptions of music it almost makes you forget how hard it can be to describe music. Joplin’s voice breaks out “in hives of feeling.” Music, in the words of the speaker’s friend, “throws you back into your body, like organic food or heroin.” Then there’s the image of the pain in his friend’s singing voice “like the silhouette of a dog baying at the moon, almost liver-shaped, a bell hung from a rope of its own pure yearning.” And then, back to Janis again, her voice running up and down the body “like a fire that has learned to live on itself” and then, there comes the amazing description of listening to dead Janis sing as being “Grief’s beautiful blowjob.” Now that is one hell of a line. Continue reading

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Briefly Reviewed: Satan is Real and Suzy Zeus Gets Organized

I picked up Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin (and Benjamin Whitmer) off a random shelf because of the totally amazing cover, was intrigued by the blurbs even though I didn’t know who Charlie Louvin was, started reading and then realized I totally should have known who he was because I know his songs, which folks like Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Alison Krauss have covered (“I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” “If I Could Only Win Your Love” etc.). The Louvin Brothers’ swooping, interchanging harmony inspired the Everly Brothers and others, and they were reportedly Elvis Presley’s favorite gospel duo (and the reason why Presley, despite this, never covered them is herein explained). Continue reading

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“Country Song”

This year’s monthly series focus will be on music poems (2012 was Months poems and 2013 was Animals). First up, the incomparable A.E. Stallings’ “Country Song” from her collection Olives.

“Death was something that hadn’t happened yet,” is how it starts, one of the many lines which does many things at once. Death was something that hadn’t happened yet, in the song? to the speaker? The answer to both being yes. Another line that does similar multitasking comes just a few later, “It seeped up through the dashboard’s oubliette.” What does, the “hour of broken luck” in the line just before? Death from the first line? The country song? All of the above, even though grammatically of course the subject of that sentence Continue reading


Class Registration and Film Reviews

Just a quick reminder for Portland folks that registration is still open (but the cut-off date looms!) for The Attic Institute’s Saturday morning Time to Write writing group, which I’ll be leading. Saturdays, 10am – noon, Jan 18 – Feb 15. Open to all genres and all writers. Details here.

Attic logo

And, my Film Reviews for 2014 have begun! New format this year, question and answer reviews (totally stolen from Boob Tube Dude TV critic Ryan McGee’s 5 Questions and 500 words TV pilot reviews, because it looked like a really fun form). (Last year’s reviews are archived here.)

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2013 ends on a great note, with another poem of mine published in online journal  The Broken City‘s music-themed issue, just posted today! (My poem, “At the Bardot,” is on page 9). 13 was a bit my lucky number this year — I had work in Beatdom‘s #13 issue too, and (though it was doesn’t work for a number-13 trifecta) I was terribly excited to be in issue #89 of FIELD this fall.

And now, after a quick reminder that you can sign up to receive an email alert when there’s a new post in the new year towards the bottom of the page (the “Yes Please” button on the lower left under where it says “Be Alerted To New Posts”), here’s my traditional quick look back at what I read and watched this year… first the books: Continue reading

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