Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

14 February, 2020

Calling in well

artwork by Darrell McKinney
Maybe someone should give those Madison Street marketing cutthroats a cigar, because it's three decades on and I still think about those Sunday morning retirement commercials on television. Do you remember them? Sandwiched somewhere been Archer Daniel Midland commercials, Meet the Press, and Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood like cheese in a Dagwood?

Maybe it's because I'm turning 47 next week and it's getting that
What's a Dagwood?
period of life when people (I'm told) start paying closer attention to their retirement nest egg... assuming they have one to look at. Maybe it's because I'm looking forward to being someone's grandfather when my granddaughter makes her appearance sometime in the next 6 weeks or so. I've been thinking about my dad a lot lately, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that he didn't live long enough to meet his grandchildren, or with the fact that I'm getting older and seeing less of him in how I make my way in the world.

I've written about this before, so I don't want to hammer in on it too much. Instead, I want to talk about calling in well.

I first heard the term from Utah Phillips, on The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, a collaborative album put out by indie icon Ani DeFranco's  on Righteous Babe Records. Utah was talking about his friend, the musician Mark Ross, "America's most famous unknown folk singer."  Calling in well is what Utah called Mark's decision to stop trying to live someone else's life and live his own... which meant making music, no matter what.

The notion stuck with me... sort of a dream, an unarticulated goal.  As peripatetic as my employment life has been, except for a 2 1/2 year stretch as a full-time composition instructor at Arizona State University, you might be surprised to know I didn't call in decades ago.  As a matter of fact, most of my working life has been an attempt to do things The Right Way.

No. Really. Honest.

I think in the end it's all about the platitudes you choose to give your life over to. Most of my working life was given over to Give your life over to the work you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life. That's primary mantra of job coaches, HR reps, college admissions counselors, and my high school Guidance Counselor Mrs. Click.   And as much as I fought it, and regardless of how much my own experience kept shoving my face in the contrary, I still tried for that goal. Teaching was close and so was journalism; those jobs, even though I was largely underpaid and certainly unappreciated in both fields, came close to matching my skills and my need to be useful. Both teaching and journalism -- the real kind, not what passes for the press most of the time -- can be noble endeavors, and I know people who engage in them nobly. 

But it didn't last. Some of the reasons were my fault, but I still believe I was written off by both higher education (for having the temerity to suggest that economic exploitation is wrong) and journalism (for not game playing and politicking in a political town).  The part of both of those situations that was my fault is this: I'm not good at the whole "play the game" thing. 

That's another one of those platitudes, most often uttered by parental types and sports fans. Play the game... which is code for "compromise for a paycheck." Now I do enjoy watching a good baseball game, but I never understood treating my working life like trying to get to third base, only to be tagged out sliding into home.

Maybe it's a temperament issue. Maybe it's about my birth order. Maybe it's about my middle class upbringing that translated into a disregard for money. Maybe it's the chip on my shoulder that, chip away at it as I might, I can't seem to get rid of.   All I know is this:

I'm calling in well. Now. 

It doesn't look like I wanted it to look; I was hoping to have a slightly better idea where the little bit of money I'd like to make would come from. But I'm done with platitudes that don't work for anyone except a larger system that's built to exploit and hold out the promise of retirement as the time to "really live."  I'm a poet, a writer and teller of stories, and a collector of stories. I'm a wordslinger. I write Word-Things. I fully expect to take on gigs from time to time, but copywriting gigs aren't going to define my life. 

So, to borrow and edit from Charles Osgood... really the best part of Sunday morning when I was younger... I'll see you in between the words. 

17 January, 2020

from Louisville: Another city on the make

2.

There's a coffee shop walking distance from the shelter. These days I haunt coffee shops like I used to haunt bars. I went to Freddie's on Broadway because it was a cheap, cash only dive bar that asked no questions and only required people not to offend the general atmosphere. That place was also a wonderful archive of all things masculine from the 20th Century: hand drawn wrestling posters, beer steins, collector booze bottles from the 1970's, I hung out at Rubbie's because it's a neighborhood bar close to home, the happy hour prices are good, and the well bourbon was tolerably good. That bar was also a good bell weather for the last Presidential election.

Angry white men
trying to hold back
a changing world
like they grip their beer

Now I rotate between a handful of coffee shops in the city. When I'm scribing for pay or working on my own words, I go to noisy coffee shops, like the one close to where I live, or the one close to the shelter. When I'm meeting people, I go to one of two Heine Bros. On Bardstown Road because the white noise doesn't distract my ears from conversation. When I want to hang out and read, or talk to people who have also either stepped off or were pushed off the wide path , I go to Highland Coffee. They each have a thing I like better there than any other coffee shop. Heine Bros serves a turmeric chai with black pepper I really like. Highland has a nice selection of herbal teas and makes a cup of coffee. Sunergos, in my neighborhood, has the best cappuccino in the city and serves delicious cheddar chive drop biscuits that make for a good lunch.

Pockets of warmth
in an increasingly chilly cityscape
regardless of the season
regardless of the temperature.

Please & Thank You on Market and Shelby is a short walk from the shelter. They have wonderful herbal teas and the best blueberry lemon muffins in the city. I go there to scribe or to work, and to eat a muffin after I finish my short shift in the shelter coffee room. Lately I've run into K, a woman I met when I volunteered with one of the local homeless outreach organizations. She's usually sitting out front, a few steps off to the side away from the corner. When I can afford to, I get her a cup of coffee. Sometimes she's flying a sign. Sometimes she's waiting for her boyfriend J, who is always either off trying to find work, off trying to do some good deed that will, when he tells the story, never be repaid in kind. J has a demon in his gut like I do. When I see her I ask whether J has been drinking, so I know whether I'll see him or the demon. They are always in a state of emergency... being moved on, lost a tent, stuff stolen, scrambling to avoid snow, rain, cold, heat. Their home camp in Butchertown was bulldozed a few years ago to make room for a soccer stadium. The investors through money at the city to house the residents of Camp Campbell quickly for the good PR boost. Nearly all the former residents of Camp Campbell are no longer housed now. But there aren't any news cameras around to notice.

Erasure – delete a line
delete a camp
delete a person
a collateral damage
for the marketing collateral

Part 1 posted on Instagram. Check it out!

13 January, 2020

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”*

I had recent conversation about higher education and my thoughts on returning to the classroom, and while digging through some old files (looking for something else) I found this word collage. Names have been changed, and I apologize to the family of A.A. Milne and the creators of The Flintstones.








Word Collage / RE: ANNUAL EVALUATION

"During this review period (... one calendar year [January 1, 2008- December 31, 2008]...) your TEACHING SCORES -- RANGING FROM 1.17 TO 1.37 AND AVERAGING AN OVERALL 1.25 -- ARE BETTER THAN THE DEPARTMENTAL MEAN FOR BOTH YOUR RANK AND THE LEVEL OF CLASSES YOU TAUGHT. Students comment on your entertaining style and your pedagogy. "
/splice/
Your annual performance evaluation for this year is as follows:
Teaching: 2
Service: 1
Professional Development: 1
Overall: 1.8
{NOTE:  3=Meritorious performance. 2= Satisfactory performance. 1 = Unsatisfactory performance}

/splice/
"Your self-evaluation with no supplemental materials offers little evidence of service contributions and no evidence of professional development..."

/splice/

{NOTE: ON COURSE EVALUATONS, the lower the number the better. So a 1 = to an 'A'}

/splice/
From:
To: The Grand Pooh-Bah
Sent: Wed Mar 04 07:37:20 2009
Subject: Meeting to Discuss Annual Review
I am sending my annual review back signed, via campus mail, and I have saved a copy for my records. However, as you will notice, I would like to discuss it in more detail sometime soon. My score for Service does not reflect my contributions on the Steering Committee THIS academic year – which I did mention (and I thought, at some length) in my self-evaluation. Also, as with my evaluation last year, I am at a loss as to what I can do about Professional Development, as most of the opportunities that might apply are either not conducive to my schedule or too expensive.
Moreover, I am still left with the impression that being a good instructor means little or nothing… which seems ironic to me, since that’s what I was hired to do.
I am on campus on MWF and I teach from 7:30-12:40.  Is there a time soon that we could sit down and chat?
Regards,
/splice/

PLEASE RETAIN ONE COPY OF THIS LETTER FOR YOUR RECORDS AND RETURN ONE SIGNED COPY TO ME BY MARCH 23.

_X_ I will schedule an interview to discuss this review.
__ I will not schedule an interview to discuss this review.

From: The Grand Pooh-Bah
Sent: Wed 3/4/2009 10:29 AM
To: 
Cc: Pooh-Bah No. 2
Subject: Re: Meeting to Discuss Annual Review
Main Office staff makes my appointments.
--------------------------
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

/splice/
____________
* Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

13 December, 2019

From Field Notes -- Lauds: Procession to the Long Night Moon

Wednesday, from The Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, KY:  Instead of observing Lauds and Mass this morning I came down to the cafeteria to sit with my coffee facing the windows that look out onto the patio that leads to the garden. On my way downstairs (where I was planning on staring out the window, anyway), the moon caught my attention through a window near the top of the stairs; the moon shined bright and hung low over the abbey. I decided to catch more of it because it was a crisp, clear, and cold moon. A December moon. And  with sunrise not until almost 8 AM, she would hold sway in the pre-solstice darkness.

My thoughts wandered, as they often do, wandering into wondering about ... well... my wonderings. My ruminations. And I found myself pondering the plusses and minuses of the contemplative life that Merton wrote about so eloquently. I can't be, nor do I have the desire to be, a Religious. But what about the notion of being a "secular contemplative"?

I had just read an article online about this, but the solution laid out there was to teach... an option I don't really have and, if I'm going to choose poverty in order to be able reflect and write,  I'll choose straight poverty and not sign up to be exploited.

Then there's the whole being in one place thing, which seems to be common among contemplators of various ilks and ordinations. But I think I try too hard to place contemplation and restlessness in opposition, even though I know in practice this isn't so. This tendency is World-bound thinking. Machine Thinking. My Ego, my enemy, still tries to set me in opposition to myself.  Merton maintained that "contemplation is dangerous" if only because the world at large tends not to understand the need for it.

Merton's thoughts on contemplation remind me of Heidegger's fears about calculated (machine) thinking -- a product of the industrial revolution -- causing humanity to reject what makes it human: the ability to reflect. Reflection and contemplation is a large part of what gives meaning to people's lives. How we think about life is what gives life  meaning; and without contemplation, without reflection, people deny themselves context for their own experience and have no choice to rely on some other, inorganic framework.

As usual no answers presented themselves. And probably, that was the answer anyway.
Of course, my nature has always been bent towards the contemplative, just as much as it's always been restless. This is what it means to be a dreamer. And I have most definitely always been that. Unapologetically.

I sat and watched the moon slip from the cradle of two giant arms from the oak tree out and to the other side. Even with the moon hidden briefly behind the tree, it's halo glowed like something out of a Renaissance painting.  Mars was stil visible... at least I think it was Mars... but as I left my monocular back in my room and couldn't retrieve it without crossing the balcony during Mass, I can't even get a minimal look at it. But I know it's there, orbiting the sun with us,  unobstructed by light pollution as the moon peaked out on the other side of the exterior limb: rounded, glowing. Beatific.

Wide-eyed dreamers:
we end up either
restless moon chasers
or bitter failures.



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06 December, 2019

Spontaneous Nothing/ Done getting kicked

Jean Baptiste Rochambeau: traitor but not bad game designer
The aftermath of every major life decision is that my brain, my  old enemy, kicks out every single reason that I might have read the road signs wrong. Like as I might, blaming this on alcoholism doesn't feel like it fits the bill. Yes, our brains are our enemies most of the time... the brain as controlled by ego, at any rate.

To wit: faced with an unexpected 40% tuition increase from last semester to this semester, I decided it wasn't right to put that kind of strain on my family's already thin finances. The financial aid office, in all it's wisdom, offered me the opportunity to apply for yet another loan that I probably wouldn't get. If I had gone out to LA to deal with the issue in person, I'd have had no money to pay for lodging and no sure way home ... unless my wife and I didn't pay the mortgage.

See what I mean? Untenable.  Add to that the fact that the additional loan I was "qualified to apply for" was a PLUS loan... which is essentially a bank loan.  They check your credit score for that one.
So I didn't go. I was able to get a Leave of Absence for financial reasons, but that means I'll graduate a semester later than I originally planned... December instead of June 2020.

Meh. That part I'm not all that bothered by. A little bummed that I won't get to graduate with my friends in the same cohort. But it's that ol' brain... my Ego... that's been kicking my ass over the last few days.

Well, fuck you Ego. And move over.

This self-questioning has been a paralytic in the past. My joints lock up. My brain turns into an old rabbit-eared idiot box permanently stuck on white noise.  Generally this happens while I'm mid-stride into some half plan or another. Except that this time I had a plan, even if I'd forgotten that my old enemy, ego mine, would try and get in between.

My plan? Nothing.

That's right. Nothing.

I'm pretty sure my wife doesn't want to know this, and I'm damn sure certain that every productive member of the Machina Trumplandia doesn't want to know, either. Nothing flies in the face of that Engrained Something we were taught from the moment our parents started trying to socialize us.  My mother will worry. My mother-in-law, too. Pretty sure my daughter, who is preparing to have a daughter of her own, will have some concerns. If my father's ghost is hanging around, he'll have some choice words on the matter.

But yeah. Nothing. One Big Spontaneous Nothing.

That Engrained Something... that's ego. That's all my previous lives and decisions trying to run on repeat.  But like a religious has to die to their old life, a poet ... to truly be one... has to die to his or her old life, too.  While I have a deep respect for The Grand Experiment*, I've (finally) learned that there is no such thing as finding an accommodation between poetry and "life."

Poetry IS life. And there is no accommodating life. Either you live or you don't.

I know what you're thinking. What about money? What about bills? Yes, I will need to  make money. My decision to try and go back for my MFA was predicated on the notion that I had to find another track to be a good husband. My decision put off going this residency because of the financial hardship it would drop on my household was based entirely on needing to do what's best for my family. Not my ego, which would have had me going out to LA and putting our domestic security at risk.

No thank you, Ego. Fuck off.

Now, it's true that I've done a lot of things to earn money. Nearly all of them were awful. I attribute this to the fact that I've always hated money.  Even when I thought I was engaged in my own little capitalistic experiment ... and doing pretty well at it, actually... the thing I was sacrificing kept kicking me in the nuts. Poetry. Poetry kicked me in the nuts. Life. Poetry ignored is one big game of Roshambo, South Park Style.



I'm done getting kicked in the nuts for you, Ego.

Nothing. Live it. 

________________________

*The working idea that a poet can balance poetry, professional, and domestic life. I'm not saying it can't work. I'm saying it doesn't work for me. I was born with rambling feet, but I'm a lousy dancer.



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29 November, 2019

going viral



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15 November, 2019

Redactions, 1 through 3


1. trucker cap

____preferred ball caps. Some people later referred to them as “trucker caps.” The only other kind of hat ___ ever saw ___ wear was blue wool Greek fisherman’s cap; but __ only wore that one when it was cold outside. Regardless of the hat, __ always wore it the same: placed atop __ head like a crown, the brim bent just enough so it would sit comfortably against that large forehead.  

___ was the only person__ saw who wore hats that way. Not even the old farmers, the few who were left and clinging onto what land they had left until the final crop was planted and their kids sold the acres for housing developments. Their hats were clamped down on their skulls, prepared for the storm. 

__  wore his hat like he carried the storm in a billfold next to a picture of ____ .

2.  there and back again

__ keep circling _____ , back around to meet _____  anew. Keep circling back on these poetic roots: Whitman, Kerouac, Basho, Thoreau, HST… then onto Li Po, onto Tu Fu, and on and onto the mad Zen poets like Ikkyu. ___  keep circling back to the original schism, the original sin that split poetry from itself like Cain split himself from Abel.  ____ knows they are road signs. ___ knows by the signs ___ is going the right way.

3. Word as cartography

_____ , grad student, anonymous preeminent post-modernist, slaughter house scholar, and maybe the 2nd most subversive person ___  ever met once proclaimed that “Kerouac’s open road has been converted into a warehouse.”  25 yrs later, shambling as ___ is , trudging as ___ is , circling back as__  is only to find ____  on the road Kerouac mapped. Mapped, but did not create. 

Thus, ____  must respectfully disagree.

 

13 August, 2019

Escape


Central Air is busted. We sleep with the windows opened strategically to take advantage of the cooler night air. At 3:37 in the morning, the storm that will make today boil blows in. Cool breeze. That fresh, taciturn kiss of almost autumn rain. Far off threat of thunder and lightening.

At 3 in the morning, the dogs are restless. They always know. I ignore them until the sound of their paws, like a telegraph operator in an old western sending a message at gunpoint, makes it impossible. Pulling on my pajama pants, I motion for the dogs in the early half-light through the window. Part sunrise, part light pollution from the airport. Ubi, the skittish one, is afraid of storms but is overcome by curiosity and the need to piss. 

I stand on the back porch and wait. Soak in the cool air through every available pore. It is 4 in the morning.

Being so accustomed to control when hubris fails 
we are still monkeys finding God in a cool breeze
and in the distant thunder, a lullaby.

06 August, 2019

Hashtag Sick: A Word-Thing


I am sick of the world through a social media lens

I am sick of bad distillation,
sick of all the negative inflation,
sick of feeling like I’ve been infiltrated
                                                                with a social disease –

some social disease fermented in the belly
of a sick, poisoned pig
gestated in the minds
of fear-mongers and profiteers

tired of being told to lock my doors
tired of being told the cops are my friends
tired being told white fascist terrorists
                                                              are just “mentally ill.”

We are all mentally ill!
We are sick with fear
being fed through a social media tube
sick from being screwed with social media lube

tired of being told
by one more keyboard psychologist
with a Google Search PhD
that this fascism
is not what we see

and that all we need
is a gun-toting Jesus
to pave our safe way.

I am pissed off and sick
of a country crucified on an AK

pissed off and sick
pissed off and sick
pissed off and sick

and the only thing I know
the only real trick
is to get far away
from this social media schtick:

to put on well-worn boots
to put on my hat
to grab my rucksack
to pick up my walking stick

and see the world through a lens unmuddied
by profiteers and fear mongers --

to see with a vision unmolested
                                unassimilated and
                                divinely unsullied.

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13 June, 2019

Baboon Lumbering

Compiled in the early 12th century, Konjaku monogatarish├▒, or the "Tales of Times Now Past" is an anthology consisting of more than one thousand tales form India, China, and Japan. This print illustrates a scene from the story of a turtle who tried to kill a monkey because he heard that monkeys' livers are effective medicine. The turtle invited a monkey to his place telling him that there would be lots of delicious food. Anticipating the feast, the monkey climbed on the turtle's back to cross the ocean. When they were far out to sea, the turtle revealed his true intentions. The clever monkey then confided that he had accidentally left his liver hanging on a tree branch on the shore. Tricked by the monkey's claim, the turtle returned to land, where the monkey quickly scurried to safety high in the tree. Despite their adversarial roles in the story, the turtle and monkey in this print look to be friendly, thus giving the image an overall bucolic ambience.

I offer this image from a 12th Century manuscript and short explanation from the archive notes just to add a bit of context. Hopefully it will make sense by the time I'm finished with this post.

During my morning meditations a while back, it struck me that I am a baboon riding a turtle. I'm still unwrapping what all this metaphor means, but if I'm being honest this particular revelation didn't come as a great surprise. A few years back I started a long series of poems, many of them unread except by me and most of them probably not all that good, in which I wrote myself as a baboon. The phrase BABOON LUMBERING, or at the very least the image of it, was a central theme of those poems. It best described how I felt in the world.

Although my formal education is relatively extensive, my self education really began while I was still traversing  high school. I'm sure I went to classes my senior year, but I don't remember much of that year ... the year my dad died. What I do remember is spending a  lot of time in the very small high school library, obsessed with these dusty old books on the reference wall that no one ever paid any attention to. There was a huge series... maybe two or three encyclopedia sets long... of THE GREAT BOOKS. The first volume covered the major writings of Aristotle. Of course I didn't start there. I started with Descartes and The Scientific Method. I don't know why I started there, except that in the early time of mourning Dad's death, I found the religion I'd grown up with to be little or no salve. So maybe, I figured, maybe science will offer something else.

It didn't. Not really. But it did start to give me framework with which to view the world. There are two major element to the Scientific Method that matter here and now: evidence and observation. Although I'd done ok in school (I was a lazy student) I don't know that I ever learned anything about oberserving. And it was through the process of reading Descartes, Bacon, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and as many other of The Great Books as I could read, that I began to understand the difference between just SEEING and actually OBSERVING.

That lesson has been instrumental, and has shaped me into the writer, the thinker, and the spritutal and metaphysical person I am. That lesson continues to shape my journey because at the core of it is the belief that I am not just here to SEE. I am here to OBSERVE and to write it all down as honestly as I can.

Monkeys and baboons in various mythologies are storytellers, messengers, and tricksters. And while my choice of BABOON LUMBERING had more to do with my general discomfort in the world at that time, I am starting to see that my brain keeps kicking this image back at me for a reason.


And so, here I am. Still lumbering, but more at ease. Experience and observation. Detachment (a kind of empiricism) also comes into play. But I'll save that for another time.


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14 May, 2019

Why #InstagramPoetry - Why Not??





Poet culture is a funny thing. Depending on who you talk to any one, or number, or none of the following is true:

  • You need an MFA to be taken seriously.
  • MFAs are ruining poetry.
  • Good poets read a lot.
  • Reading too much can influence your work too much.
  • Spoken word is poetry.
  • Spoken word is not poetry.
  • Slam poetry is too much like rap music.
  • Rap can't be poetry.
  • Rap done right is poetry.
  • Poems have to rhyme.
  • Poems should never rhyme.
  • Traditional form is dead.
  • Traditional forms are what make poetry different from other kinds of writing.
  • Poetry must be political.
  • Poetry should avoid politics.
  • Confessional poetry is the only poetry.
  • Confessional poetry sucks.
  • No one wants to hear your angst.
  • Angst is part of the collective human condition.



And then there's the whole mess over Instagram poetry. There are those that see it as helping redefining the genre for a social media age. And of course, there are its detractors and wannabe artistic gatekeepers. And then, the publishing angle, which paints a far more positive picture than gatekeepers and traditionalists want to acknowledge: that poets publishing on Instagram are helping the sale of poetry books.

Rupi Kaur's incredible success is only part of the story. There's all the drama over Atticus and the flame war started by Collin Yost. There's arguments over what IS and what IS NOT poetry. There are lists of Instagram poets to read and, of course, discussions over the trend.



When I signed up for an Instagram account a few years back, it on a lark. I hadn't heard of Kaur, or Atticus, or Yost. I was still a heavy Facebook user and Instagram seemed like Twitter... only for pictures.  I started posting short poems there mostly because the limitations of the platforms gave me some boundaries to work in. I've been focusing on stripping the non-essential out of my work. Sometimes the pictures had absolutely nothing to do with the poem. Sometimes they did. Most of the pictures weren't that good, but it didn't matter.

And, really, nothing has happened. I've attracted some folks who like what I do, but I have no where near the reach that Kaur has. And that's ok. My phone-photo skills have improved. And my poems have improved, too... including the ones that don't get posted, the ones that get submitted to publications and contests. True, not every poem I post is a great poem. But I've learned over the decades of writing that it's impossible to gauge the work that way. I let them loose and they fly or they don't. But they are loose, just the same.

The current through the critiques of Instagram poetry is the same sort of critiques people have leveled at everyone from Bukowski to Emily Dickinson. Supposed experts and aesthetes ("influencers" for you social media savvy folks) seek to define what poetry is and what it's not. They can have at it.  I'll keep doing my thing.

And if you like what I'm doing, hop over to Instagram (@dirtysacred) and give me some love.





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