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.

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.

short sale

don’t put it on the market
yet
just tell the neighbors,
you are
waiting
for the next
bubble
…you don’t really need it…
do you?
you can still walk, can’t you?
you can still pretend
…when you have to
can’t you?
So
don’t spend all day
at the casino
you don’t need the grief
forget
the dollar slots
they are
not the
answer
JUST
plant your
beach chair in the sand
and wait for
sunrise.

dry land sailor

write me a little
poem
a day or two after I die
that’s all I ask,
just type it up
on some borrowed
copy paper from
the back room at
Ryan’s Irish Pub.

Type it on that
Olivetti typewriter
that I keep
oiled and ready
on the back porch.


no need for
something flowery
make it a little
gritty,
think:
the Missouri River
at flood stage
and

Just
think:
Rock Island, Illinois
think:
Brockway trucks

think:
St. Paul, Minnesota and Kansas City

Or don’t make anything
of it,
just keep it inside of you
and call
the El Cortez Casino
where you know I would go
when the chips are down

when the spirit is free
and

say to them…
be on the lookout for a
roulette hound

a dry land sailor

a hundred dollar millionaire

the dogs are all you can bet

with any success

“you damned dry land gambler”

you told me that lots of times
so why not
bet heavy on the long-shot dog
I’ll look for you at
the Palm Beach Kennel Club

 

like I need a hole in the head

“Copy editor, must work nights”

That’s not the job for me,
so I tell the
lady at the
New Jersey agency
that I have the flu
and I can’t call
her back until
next week

I am not worried…I have
687 dollars in my
checking account
and at least
a dozen
unread poetry
books on the
wicker table by
the back door
and I quit smoking
last week…

…there’s a case of
unopened port wine
in the basement,

…and the lawnmower is torn apart
on the workbench
in the garage

So
I need night work like I need another
business trip to Seattle
…like I need another meeting with
that senior manager from
San Jose who drives
the Audi and
smokes clove cigarettes,

I need night work
like I need that waitress
at Wranglers’ Inn
in Missoula
with her attitude
about “last call customers”

I need night work
like I need light yard work

sweet sanity

…remember Sanity,
she was a cheap date

you left her on the
dining room table
at your aunt Loraine’s place
in Grand Rapids in ‘73,
(the summer you turned 19…)

…you abandoned her like a
bad tuna fish sandwich
wrapped in waxed paper,
at a bus depot in Moline
two years after that…

… you gave her away
to that girl with the wayward smile
when you had 57 bucks of
credit left
on your visa card…

…you welcomed her home
in ‘83 and again in ‘84 but then
you decided that there weren’t enough
wasps circling the moon…
…not enough flies landing on
the butter dish…
…not enough hounds barking…
…not enough moths playing the violin…

…you threw Sweet Sanity in the face
of that micromanager
that you worked for on The Street
in 1985 – Mr Plaid with the
tinted glasses…

…you prepared for meetings
…you called in the gamblers
dismissed the whores

you called the guys in the West Coast Office

when all bets were off…

…you lost at the slots
you drank at the bar
you bought the house
in Mt. Pocono…

…you traded the shotgun
for three cords of wood…

…you drank cheap vodka
in a smoky glass
and you sat in
poets’ bars…
…you stood up for
a cause that
won’t exist for
another
one hundred years

Sanity, don’t bet on her
she’s a dangerous ex-wife
she runs from you
then
she ruins you,
but you only know for sure
that she’s
left town for good
when you sit
upright in bed at
3am when the
dogs howl and
the wind is evil
and north has become
south and
the moon is in bed

AND

sunrise isn’t for
at least 3 and a half more
hours

last day

reel them in fast
before they sink
don’t let the
bobber go under
too long before
you yank the line
don’t tell them
that you have
that job nailed
in K.C. and don’t
let them know
that you quit
six weeks ago
don’t let them know
that the last time
you called Corporate
was last july
don’t talk to the
guy in the elevator
who says he delivers
the best pastrami on rye
don’t make eye contact
with the girl named
Natalie at the desk
who says she
has your keys to
your locker at the bus station
don’t walk downtown
without buying a
lottery ticket
OR
without placing a bet
on a fast dog
at the Sioux City track
just
don’t bet on any
of it working out

The Axe man

the Axe man flies business class
from the West coast
and he takes his humble place
in the little room off the kitchen
at 8AM on Monday morning

He wears a paisley tie
right out of nineteen seventy five

but he carries himself with
grace through the
morning coffee clatter

…all eyes are on the
guy from
the Bay Area
nobody speaks to him
nobody asks how his
wife enjoys life in
Burlingame or if he
has two kids
or three
or if he drives a Volvo
or a Land Cruiser

…nobody gives
a solitary crap about
UCLA…

…you don’t care that much
about the Axe man because
of the numbers game
and you know it’s
just a game
for the ball-busting
number crunchers

…the Axe man takes it all
in stride – he has figures
on his side
temperamental figures
ephemeral figures
workable figures
undeniable facts

you want to ask the
Axe man if he takes his
work home with him
if his wife ever tosses
a dinner plate in his
direction, or if
he has a sister
incarcerated somewhere

of if he has a brother
who drank too much

most of all,
you want to ask him
why he hasn’t bought
a new necktie
in this century
but you don’t

…you have
to pack.

The dilemma

life is habit,
most of it…

some bad
some good
it’s
like that girl
Louisa that you
hung with
when you were
right out of
high school
and filled
with habit-forming bravado

when you were

dreaming about,
flying airplanes
and moving to
Honduras.
And you spent
hours discussing
your future plans
with her over
Grain Belt beer…

She was habit.
When she left
town
saying that she
had no time
for Honduras
and was scared
as shit of flying,
you continued
with
the next
habit…
…the Chesterfields
and chilled white wine…

those two saw you through
mid-town and on
into the outer-boroughs
until you found yourself
clinging to a capsized
dingy one night
in the center of the Hudson River

life is habit,
most of it
some bad
some good

you spend a lot of life
at the Publix
in the produce aisle
inspecting romaine lettuce and
limes,
you spend a lot of life
at the convenience store
weekday mornings
at 5:45AM
pouring black coffee into
a scalding
paper cup…

habits all,

and now
you’re pissed off that your
middle finger is
burned and can’t be used
for at least a week
and you think that you will be
doing this

every day… from now
until
the next century
and you can’t imagine
it any other way
…that is habit

you’re an old
wrangler herding
cows
you’re
an old surfer
looking for a
50 foot wave
you’re an old
farmer waiting
for a summer rain
you’re an old poet
listening to
the dogs snore
under the table
as Chopin plays
on the stereo
as you
stare at a
page on your
yellowing legal pad
waiting for
a scene
so you can
give it life

it’s habit
SO

you
think that you will
be doing this until
the day
that you die

and

you probably will
because
there’s no
way
out