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.

tax time

Naked
and afraid?
Who, you?
me?
Not a chance
dig your
pink painted toes
into the sand and
file the extension.

Then kiss me
like we have no
real chance
of going home.

It’s a two and
a half hour
flight to
Tegucigalpa, so
call up the relatives
and pretend
there’s a new investor
named Ferdinand
and he’s burning
cash like there
is no tomorrow.

Just kiss me
again and
say if there
is such a thing
as real love
you’ve found it here
on deadbeat beach.

In a week we will
be on the bus
to Choluteca
drinking warm beer
and laughing about
the last check we
left for the
landlord.

The Upper Keys bagel poem

after all
the skiff is still upright
the shadows have
hastened away, and
you and I are upright
as well…
and waiting for the next
thing to happen
AS we wait for the
quiet of mid-morning
to slink in like some
old washed up
guitar player,
like some has-been
drugged out rock star
like some careless,
busted, fishing guide.

We wait until the traffic slows
on the OS Highway
so we can walk up to the
bagel shop where that
guy named Nigel says
he has the best damned
bagels south of Brooklyn
but you say he hasn’t got
a clue as to what goes
into a bagel
you tell me that he’s
too self-absorbed.
You tell me
there is not
a fucking
bagel
worth
eating
south of Cape May, New Jersey.

We eat our bagels
in peace – on the deck
of the best damned
Brooklyn Bagel dive
in the Upper Keys.

You wave to
some driver in
a furniture truck
barreling
south on US 1
you tell me, that
he’s driving too fast
and in the end
it’s all just another
accident waiting
to happen.

 

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.

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

 

Morning star

get up at half past five

take a shower

don’t smoke before breakfast

walk down to the water

watch Venus set

wait for sunrise,

remember Venus

…she’s been there for so very long

write it down…

she’ll be back …you might not

it’s your 22, 356th ride

it’s the day before the big

job interview,

so you’d better

drink a coffee on the porch

with the hound

write a poem if you

have one in you

play Chopin

and

remember it all as best you can

it is moving past you…

in tiny pieces

like lightning bugs that

flash in summer heat

… don’t drive too fast

don’t drink too much

don’t ask for trouble

check your BP at that

machine at the market

don’t text message anyone

just keep to yourself…

…but

drive out to the casino

before the end of the day

and drop 20 bucks

into a slot machine

and hope for the best

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

Notes on Bimini

(In August, my wife MJ and I travelled to the island of Bimini, Bahamas. I made a few notes regarding our visit. I transcribe them here much the way I noted them originally.)

20150804_195858

Looking west toward U.S. mainland from the beach, North Bimini.

The island of Bimini is 53 miles east of Miami, Florida. It’s a wonderful island, about 7 miles long and 700 feet wide. It’s different than many other islands. There is no Senior Frog’s on Bimini. No timeshares. No Club-Med. No one is selling t-shirts on the beach. There is a gambling casino on Bimini now, so I suppose cultural ‘improvements’ are soon to follow, but I hope not.

About 2000 Biminites live on the islands of North and South Bimini, with the airport being on South Bimini. The tiny communities of Alice Town and Bailey Town are located on North Bimini. If you arrive by air, as we did, you’ll need to take the ferry across the channel that separates the two islands to get into town. The photo below was taken crossing from South Bimini to North Bimini.

ferry1

On the ferry crossing the channel between North & South Bimini.

Many notable people have passed through Bimini over the years, for various reasons. Some of their reasons for traveling to Bimini were honorable, and others not so much:

  • Ponce de Leon went to Bimini in the 1500’s to look for the Fountain of Youth.
  • Jimmy Buffett went to Bimini to write a song.
  • 1988 presidential hopeful Gary Hart went to Bimini to hide an extra-marital affair.
  • Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. went to Bimini to write a speech.
  • Al Capone went to Bimini to negotiate with liquor dealers.
  • Lucille Ball went to Bimini to escape Hollywood.
  • Hemingway went to Bimini to write a book.
  • Countless seekers have travelled to Bimini to search for the Lost Continent of Atlantis.

Last month we went to Bimini, for no other reason than to see what’s there and to soak up some sun and maybe a little literary lore left over from the burned out ruin of the Compleat Angler, Hemingway’s old haunt.

Our 17 minute flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini International was delayed for 4 hours. Such delays are more the norm than the exception. You take delays in stride when you go to Bimini. Leave your watch at home.

Never go to Bimini when you are in a hurry. You can’t make things happen there. Don’t go to Bimini if you want to rent jet skis. You cannot parasail. Fishing and diving are very much allowed. Don’t go to Bimini if you want nightlife, or craft beers. If you want to boat, BYOB. Gas sometimes runs short in Bimini. If you drink alcohol, drink Kalik beer and nothing else.

Customs is a breeze on Bimini. We were through in about 15 minutes. There was one agent stamping passports when we rolled up to the BIM International Terminal on the daily flight from Ft. Lauderdale with about 25 other passengers, and before we knew it we were all packed into a van, and jostling down the road to the ferry terminal.

20150803_215101

Me at the International Arrivals terminal, BIM.

It’s a pleasant ride across the channel to North Bimini. Budget about 4 bucks per person for the ride. For 2 dollars more the ferry man will take you on past the ferry terminal to the dock at the Sea Crest hotel which is where we stayed. I reviewed the Sea Crest on Trip Advisor. My review is here.

We arrived late afternoon and the party was on. Reggae music from the park opposite the hotel pounded long into the night. It was the first Monday in August, which is Emancipation Day in the Bahamas. This is the day that commemorates the emancipation of the slaves in the British Colonies in 1834. On Bimini it’s a big deal and cause for great celebration.

*

Next day, after a pancake breakfast at Captain Bobs across the street from the Sea Crest, we walked half a block north to view the remains of the Compleat Angler. The Compleat Angler, was undoubtedly the most famous of all structures on Bimini, and perhaps the most internationally famous structure in the Bahamas. This 12 room hotel on Kings Highway in Alice Town was home to Hemingway for three summers back in the ‘30’s. He wrote most of “To Have and To Have Not” on Bimini, when he was not busy fishing, playing ring-toss and drinking vodka martinis (reportedly his drink of choice while staying at the Compleat Angler). His Pulitzer Prize winning novella, “The Old Man and the Sea”, although written years later, was inspired by his days on Bimini. His posthumous novel, “Islands in the Stream” was Bimini inspired as well.

Unfortunately, the Angler burned to the ground in January of 2006. The fire claimed the life of owner Julian Brown who died in the blaze after leading a guest to safety. Today, the Compleat Angler is maintained by the Bahamian government as an historic site.

20150804_085400

All that remains of the Compleat Angler.

To really see Bimini you’ll need a golf cart. Budget about $60.00 for a half-day. That’s plenty of time to see the island. We rented one at the hotel and headed up Kings Highway to see what was happening at the “North End”. Check your brakes before you head out in your golf cart. Our brakes were nearly non-existent. Fortunately, there aren’t many hills on Bimini, but there are a few, and you are on the road with full sized automobiles and trucks. Don’t forget to drive on the left. Accidents happen on Bimini and recently a foreign construction worker was killed driving a golf cart on Kings Highway. Drive carefully.

At the North End, the cruise ship pier is complete and The Bimini SuperFast ferry from Miami now debarks passengers from the boat directly onto waiting shuttles. The trip from Miami to Bimini takes about 3 hours. There is, of course, gambling aboard.

We carefully weave our way along the new roadways that connect the new hotel and gift shops. There is construction going on. Lots of it. This place is being built by overseas developers with very deep pockets. Eventually we chug up a small hill and round a bend. I stand on the non-existent brakes and we careen into a parking space in front of the casino. It’s about 11 AM and the casino is nearly empty, but it’s ice cold inside and it’s a welcome relief from the heat outside.

20150805_092715

Kings Highway, Alice Town, Bimini.

It’s August 4th, my birthday. I’ve turned the same age as Hemingway when he died. In honor of Old Hem I drop a 20 into a slot machine. It gobbles it quickly and sits there waiting for more but I don’t give in. The bar is open so we order cold drinks. Briefly, I think a vodka martini might be an appropriate drink for the occasion, but remembering the brakeless golf cart waiting outside, I opt for a diet coke. We toast to my birthday, and Hemingway and Bimini and we leave. Traffic is light on the streets leading back to the highway, save for construction equipment. Condos are going up on Bimini. Big changes are coming here. Not all of them good.

We spend the afternoon at a deserted beach and when we are done with the sun we head up to Sherry’s Bar at the edge of the sand.

*

Sherry’s serves Kalik beer and fried lobster. That’s about all she serves but she serves it better than anyone, anywhere…that is a fact. It is the best fried lobster you’ll ever eat. Budget $20.00 per person for your fried lobster at Sherry’s — it’s worth every penny. As my wife said, “it is so good, you don’t want it to end”. Just don’t plan to go there on a Wednesday because Sherry’s is closed on Wednesday, along with a lot of other places on Bimini.

20150804_142046

My wife MJ at the world famous Sherry’s Beach Bar.

*

That evening we decide to visit South Bimini, so we take the ferry back across the channel. Transportation on South Bimini is very reasonable. Budget $00.00 for the free bus. It will take you directly to Mackey’s Sand Bar at the south end of the island. When you’re ready to leave, any of the restaurant staff will call the bus for you.

Free Bus

Free bus.

The outdoor bar looks out on some of the most pristine waters in the Caribbean. Squint carefully and you can make out the shoreline of Gun Cay, ten miles to the south. By the time we left Mackey’s to return to the ferry, the place was packed. It was Wednesday, and unlike other Bimini establishments, Mackey’s is open for business. Wednesday is Karaoke night at Mackey’s, and half of Bimini turns out to participate. Plan your visit to Mackey’s accordingly, depending upon your like, or dislike, for singing games.

On Thursday it was time to go home. The ferry picked us up at the marina for the return to the airport on South Bimini. Our flight was scheduled for 10 AM and when we saw the twin engine turboprop land we thought we were home free. Minutes later a gate agent came into the cramped waiting room to announce that the plane that was to take us back to Florida had blown a tire upon landing. He said that they would have to have a tire, and a mechanic to install it, flown out from Ft. Lauderdale. The wait time – a few hours. Again, leave your watch at home when you travel here.

There are no amenities at BIM. Nothing. Not even a soft drink machine. Airport authorities suggested that in view of the long delay, we should go to the restaurant at nearby Sand’s Resort. Along with a dozen or so other stranded travelers we packed into a shuttle for the short ride over to the Sands.

Plane going nowhere soon

This plane is not going anywhere soon.

You get to know people when you’re stranded with them, and we made a few new friends. One new friend is a firefighter from Chicago who comes to Bimini every year to fish. He was worried about his cooler of fish that had been loaded onto our crippled plane. He’d intended to be back in Chicago before the ice melted. Now things weren’t looking so good. I asked about the fishing and he said it was great, but the marina ran out of gas for the boats. Gas delivery to Bimini was delayed.

We ate, drank coffee and talked for a while and when the waitress brought our check, I handed her my credit card. Minutes later she came back. “I’m sorry,” she said. “The credit card machines are not working today. Do you have cash?” I did, but barely. Bring cash when you travel to Bimini.

Meanwhile, back at the airport, little was happening with our broken down plane. Soon after another delay was announced, a charter flight landed with new tires and a mechanic. We all watched him work, and when he was finished, he came into the terminal to great applause. “Thank you for saving us,” gushed one lady as if we’d been drowning in shark infested waters.

By 4PM we were preparing to board our plane for the return 17 minute flight to the mainland. We were still waiting to board, when a Challenger 605 jet dropped out of the sky. Not many jets land on Bimini. This is prop land. But this plane was different. It was the Casino plane, and it taxied up the terminal and deplaned 30 or so passengers onto the tarmac. High-rollers headed for the Casino. I watch them trudge toward the customs house, dragging their rolling luggage behind them, sweating profusely in the hot Bahamian sun.20150805_085821

A new day is dawning on little Bimini.

(Note: Hurricane Joaquin brushed past Bimini last week, as an incredibly powerful Category 4 storm, wreaking havoc throughout the southeastern Bahamas. Bimini was spared a direct hit from this storm, but other islands were not as fortunate. San Salvador, Cat Island, Rum Cay and Crooked Island were among the islands described as “obliterated”. In addition to the devastation on land, the 40-50 foot waves and 130 mile per hour winds produced by this hurricane caused an 800 foot container ship to go down in 15,000 feet of water with a crew of 33  near the Crooked Islands. No survivors have been located as I write this. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friends in the islands as they recover from this disaster.)

Honoring National Punctuation Day – September 24th

“My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.” – Ernest Hemingway.

Today is National Punctuation Day. Banks and schools remain open.

In honor of the holiday, I went searching for a couple of relevant quotes to honor the day. I didn’t have the one above readily at hand, but I knew what I wanted to say, and as luck would have it, The Old Man already said it, and he said it much better than I could have.

I predict the blogosphere will be rife today with predictions forecasting the end of civilization due to the demise of sentence structure and proper punctuation. The collapse of secondary education, texting teenagers, tweeting celebrities, email, all of social media, and a host of other causes will all be pointed to as primary suspects in the brutal slaying of punctuation. Frankly, I doubt that things are that dire.

Hand held devices, and text messaging in particular, seem to be at the root of most of the finger shaking and hand wringing among English purists. The fear seems to be that as we become accustomed to using text message shorthand, abbreviations, and pop-culture acronyms in our daily lives, we will carry this slovenly behavior into more formal writing until sentences begin with lower case letters and end sans periods. We’ll forget about the Oxford comma. ‘L8r’ and ‘2day’ will start showing up in legal briefs and on prescription bottle labels. The apostrophe will take its place upon the literary scrapheap and only a few ivory tower professors will understand the significance of the semi-colon in compound sentence structure.

Believe me things aren’t that bad. There is something about entering words into a 3×6 inch electronic device that just isn’t natural. It brings out the outlaw in all of us. Give me a way to say something faster and I’ll do it (I don’t need to work for a living – hand over the cash drawer – get me out of here).

I think that most people know the rudimentary rules of punctuation, but they choose when and where to apply them. And that’s their choice. It’s about freedom. And I like that. And don’t think for a minute that it’s only texting kids and high-school dropouts who are taking liberties with the English language and the hallowed citadel of punctuation.

Perhaps no other contemporary writer has taken more literary license with punctuation than Cormac McCarthy, my number two favorite writer directly behind Old Hem. McCarthy’s books are nearly devoid of punctuation. In his words “I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.” Noticeably missing in McCarthy’s work are quotation marks. When asked about this, McCarthy said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that he prefers not to “block the page up with weird little marks. If you write properly, you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

The Pulitzer Prize winning McCarthy has perhaps earned the right to bring his croquet mallet to the putting green.

For a more colorful take on punctuation, I like this from Edward Abbey (probably written to an editor) regarding his 1975 classic novel of environmental anarchy, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”:

“…I would prefer a minimum of goddamn commas, hyphens, apostrophes, quotation marks and fucking (most obscene of all punctuation marks) semi-colons. I’ve had to waste hours erasing that storm of flyshit on the typescript.”

So take that kids…just don’t try it in school.

I will close with a final quote that somehow seems appropriate.

“If I wouldn’t have spent so much time shooting spit wads at my English teacher, I’d know how to punctuate. Good thing I normally write poetry.” – Stanley Vincent Paskavich – author of Stantasyland