National Poetry Month

I know that it’s been quiet around here at the EEOTPB website. So quiet that my friend Tulip, who disappeared into the depths of Southern California (somewhere near Toluca Lake) nearly two years ago, finally surfaced. She called me the other night to find out if I was okay. I told her that I was fine, but because of my current professional situation, I had been forced to spend most of my time concentrating on paying writing jobs, and my day job of writing technical books had left me creatively drained.

In the course of our conversation, she reminded me that April is National Poetry Month. She went on to say that if I had any true appreciation for the art form of poetry, I would not let the month go by without firing off at least one post into the blogosphere mentioning this fact.

So to recognize the month, I will respond here, to the reader who wrote to me some time ago to ask if I actually ever READ any poetry. I told that reader that I did read quite a bit of poetry and someday, when I got time, I would go into details.

Recently (ok within the last six months), I have read these three books of poems. I recommend them all for anyone with the slightest interest in poetry, writing, or in the assemblage of words in any unique and meaningful order:

  1. Weldon Kees, The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees – Probably the finest poet to come out of Beatrice, Nebraska to date, Weldon Kees is perhaps best known for his dramatic, albeit suspicious exit from life, rather than his fine body of work. Known by some as the “Missing Poet”, Kees committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge on July 18, 1955. Although some believe that Kees staged his own death and fled to a new life in Mexico, his typewriter fell silent after that date. Known as “a bitter poet”, I didn’t read any of his works until fairly recently, and I wish I had discovered him sooner. But bitter…yeah, a little.
  2. Louis Jenkins, Before You Know It: Prose Poems 1970-2005 – I was never a fan of the prose poem, until I read Louis Jenkins. I enjoyed his work so much that I tried writing a few prose poems myself, and although they fall far short of Jenkins’ poems, I have gained a new appreciation for the form. Jenkins is a native Oklahoman, but he lived for decades up in Duluth, Minnesota. Why that’s worth mentioning, I can’t say, but there is something about that neck of the woods that brings out the poet in some people. Bob Dylan is from Duluth, and I have always suspicioned that his talent may have been in someway channeled by the large iron deposits underlying that part of the country – but that is just my theory.
  3. Ernest Hemingway, Complete Poems – A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended a reading of Papa’s poetry at the Blue Heaven Bar on Thomas Street in Key West. It was during Hemingway Days, which occurs each year in July – not the greatest time of year to visit Key West. It is truly a 24 hour sauna in the Keys that time of year, but if you are up for it, head on down, order a cold one at the bar, and sip it slowly as you listen to The Old Man’s best poems read by dedicated members of the Key West Poetry Guild. Up until that time, I had never considered Hemingway a poet, and from what I’ve read that’s the way he liked it. He never really wanted be remembered for his verse. In any case, I picked up a copy of his Collected Works on my way out of town. It sat on my bookshelf untouched for more than two years until I recently picked it up and read it. I shall consider him a poet whether he likes it or not, and as things stand right now, there is little he can do about it.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. I would like to hear what you’ve been reading as well, so feel free to comment here.

I will close my tribute to National Poetry Month with a short, whimsical poem that I wrote several years ago. It’s been collecting virtual dust on my hard drive since 2009, so this seems as good a time as any to let go of it:

 

ON WRITING A POEM

Writing a poem is often like,
pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks,
up a steep hill, for absolutely
no reason, whatsoever.

Nobody really needs the bricks,
nobody cares if you make it
to the top, or if you spill half
of the load on the way up.

In the end, you’ll be just
another forlorn, but tired
wheelbarrow pusher, you’ll never be
a real bricklayer.

If you were a real bricklayer,
you’d write a novel,
And carry your bricks up…
…one at a time,
and position them very carefully.

But you’re no bricklayer – so,
be content with your task,
concentrate on the load,
rejoice at the summit.

anger

Don’t stay angry for too long,
you can be mad for awhile,
that’s the way of the world,
we were made to be that way,
we were made to stay,
pissed off for 2 or 3 days,
not much more…
… in the end, there’s no room
for any of it.
Forget that swindler who
resurfaced your driveway.
Forget the woman in the red Audi
who cut you off on the freeway.
Forget the guy from Corporate
who outsourced your job to Bangalore.
Forget about cell phone overage charges,
And the price of bottled water,
…unless they mess with your dog
let it go.

Lift me up

Sometimes it is more about blind luck
than it is about perseverance.
Sometimes it is more about grace,
than beauty,
more about class than
canned, recycled elegance.
You know what I mean
you’ve watched the
stars and the starlets,
and read the right Magazines.
You’ve read Nietzsche, and
Hemingway – after that, what’s left?
You’ve been scared as hell
in the night, and
yet you’ve welcomed
the dark.
Tonight, I am going to
read “Death in the Afternoon”.

I need a lift.

God, you’ve moved your moon

God, you’ve moved your moon,
and I was the last one to see it go,
but I had nothing to do with it,
you probably decided it was in
the wrong spot all along
you probably wanted to…

…push those tides in the another direction,
after all, who cares about the coastline?
Fragile, my eye, it’ll wash away
in another hundred thousand years
screw the migratory birds too
they were more trouble than they were worth
give them space, they’ll find somewhere to nest
where it’s warm – the New Yorkers do —
it’s called Miami Beach.

To hell with the dolphins, what good are they
to the people in Cincinnati and Tulsa
and Paducah, it makes no difference in the Great End!

After all, we are all just casual victims of circumstance
aren’t we? We didn’t ask for any of it…

yet, here we are, misunderstood and praying for daylight
huddled under blankets and
hiding in the backseat of an ’85 Buick
as the great 21st Century manhunt thunders
through the Streets like those Pamplona bulls
…stay ahead of them if you can fella’
it’s a young man’s game — not for the
old and rickety…not for the faint of heart
you are but a step away
from death by horn or hoof.
So phone the Vicar, let’s get to the bottom of it,
write a poem, write a song,
Garcia is long gone, we’re on our own.

last named storm

it is amazing how,
in the end, we thought about it,
so little – we were
…too busy reading
tawdry paper-backs on
hot summer afternoons…
lounging by the pool,
on powder blue,
chaise lounge chairs,
the ones you bought from TropiBreez
for $499 ea. Plus shipping,
and slathering each other with sunscreen,
…too busy sipping
pineapple rum,
and too busy playing old
vinyl, Joni Mitchell albums,
on your 1968 stereo,
and playing board games,
at the clubhouse on Tuesday afternoons,
to hear November sneaking up,
to care about November sneaking up,
behind us — like a Brooklyn wharf rat,
we — too self absorbed to care,
thinking that if we quit smoking,
and stocked up on drug-store vitamins,
and cast a vote for president,
we’d be fine until the next decade,
but then it was November,
all of a sudden,
…bleached out, rung out,
dried out…November,
let’s drink one more
let’s toast the passing,
of the last named storm.

Florida derby

Once, I wanted to paint

but the canvas

wasn’t there

I found, instead

just an old bed sheet

that someone

had left out in the

early morning

Miami rain…

…poor visibility

and cataracts

cloud my

judgement.

I

find comfort in

your arms when

the weather beats

against the shutters,

when the old

drunks clatter

down the street

at 4AM

when there is

a truck abandoned

at the end of the block

with its lights still on

when

a life is lost

or

a soul forgotten.

I think of

a shipwreck

twenty years ago

…I dream of youth

and riding the finest

horse in the world

across the finish line.

We’ve never lost have we?

Summer/Palm Beach, FL

Summer nights in Palm Beach
you can almost wear
the heat around your neck
on a multi-colored lanyard
smell the night air drifting up from the
Boca ghetto 20 miles to the south
watch the bejeweled sky light up
like the gems in the shops on Worth Avenue
expect everything – you can afford it can’t you?
don’t drink the water
was it worth the hangover?
was it worth the Jacques Selosse?
that you’d ordered – spilled
for that special occasion
Don’t ask the waiter who couldn’t wait
to steal your Lana Marks bag,
don’t count on him,
he’s a traitor who’s fled West.

Keep up appearances
and don’t forget the dogs,
you’ll need them to keep you company
at the Breakers
after the politicians have left the room.

SO
talk the talk and enjoy the ride.

It ends in West Palm at the dog track.
It ends in a seedy poker room
with half a dozen guys smoking cigars
and talking legalized pot.
It ends in a sunset you will never see.

don’t change a thing

don’t change a thing
please
don’t move
the McCoy pottery vase
that has stood
on the cherry wood table
in the front room
for the past 16 years,
leave it where it is…

leave the paper roses
where you found them
on the porch swing,
crumpled and soaked
in port wine,
leave the keys to the
’75 Chrysler New Yorker on the
Grand Hotel Key Rack
beside the basement
stairs
remember
it’s all in the details,
so don’t move anything
if you don’t have to

pretend
it’s morning again
So just – roll over,
it’s only 8 am
sleep for another hour
after all, the trains
don’t run on Sunday
later on
we’ll take the dogs out and
let them run
along the shore of the lake
just don’t change a thing
I’ll turn my hat around
and wear it backwards
I will offer you a clove cigarette
and a cup of black coffee
we’ll walk to
the railroad bridge
and we will put our back
to the summer wind
but we won’t change
a damned thing
ever, if we know
what’s good for us.

New Year’s eve storm

let me wait out the storm right here

let me smoke cigarettes in the truck stop

let me order a plate of ham and scrambled eggs

let me pour on the tabasco sauce, let me

pay 85 dollars for someone to wash down

the Peterbilt before the five hundred mile

run to Spokane

don’t let anyone tell you that the

New Life Church of Christian Brotherhood

has all of the answers

or the Pope or the Dali lama

don’t let anyone get in the way of Progress

don’t flag down the latest politician

looking for a free bus ride

call a cab if you need one but

don’t expect to get off without paying a dime

it may be New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but

it’s still just another day in Kansas City

Philly and Evanston, Illinois.

and in Paducah.

expect little – pay a lot more

that’s the best way out, take the express lanes

if they are open

push it to the floor if you must but

watch out for oncoming traffic

lyrical ghost

The lyrical ghost
is usually 9 miles ahead
of me
he runs on fumes
and caffeine
so I don’t try to catch up
…he’ll run out of gas
the sorry old goat
he lives by his wits
but I don’t
let him
taunt the Old Man…
I give him
a porch to sit on
when he passes thru town
when the moon is new
and he has
that old dog with him
…that 15 year old dog that sits behind the
cane chair…
chewing the cockleburs out of his fur
that old black dog
he’s stiff in the joints
(the black dog)
I make the damned ghost
swear that he will be gone
half an hour before daylight

The lyrical ghost
says there there is no
ride like a 68 Bonneville
no piece of highway like
I-49 South
no mountains like
The Boston Mountains
no land
like east Oklahoma and
the Cookson Hills
and nothing like a big block Pontiac screaming across five states in one night
don’t take the guard rails with you,
compadre
keep it between the ditches
count the lines,
smoke ‘em if you got’ em
give it your best and pray you live until Sunday
no hubcaps needed
no state troopers need apply
he’s a damned outlaw

get up when it’s still dark
check the oil and the brake fluid
kick the tires
call for the black dog
and then just drive away

I hear him rattling around
downstairs
nights when I can’t sleep
and Leah works until
4Am
at the casino
I hear him come in through
the back door
I hear him
throw his keys at the
hook by the basement door, then
he puts
Dave Dudley
on the Philco,
he plays
‘Fireball rolled a 7’
on the record player
after that
all I can do is get up and
write a poem