Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Crazy Weekend (so far)

So, Friday, I finally manage to make it out to the Pink Pony reading series. Roger recommended that I check it out several months ago when I was first starting to talk to people about trying to get features, and it seemed like the kind of place I might do well at. Nice, earnest people, and a slightly less chaotic environment than 13 (ah, but chaos is sexy). I had to go up second, dropped the Nokia poem, which seems to be going over well lately, and managed to get everybody's attention, so, success! Talked to a few people, talked up synonymUS, enjoyed the feature (Marj, it was her birthday), and headed out in the Manhattan night.

On a whim, I decide to go to a reading at St. Mark's Church. Marty was featuring, and the evening was all about persona poems, a style which I have yet to try with any success. I had a lot of time to kill, and I ended up wandering all over the city, over to Union Square, over to St. Marks. While eating dinner I read a poem by Rilke (my current fav, in translation by Robert Bly) which I've been telling my friends about. Like to hear it? Here it goes:

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We have no idea what his fantastic head
was like, where the eyeballs were slowly swelling. But
his body now is glowing like a gas lamp,
whose inner eyes, only turned down a little,

hold their flame, shine. If there weren't light, the curve
of the breast wouldn't blind you, and in the swerve
of the thighs a smile wouldn't keep on going
toward the place where the seeds are.

If there weren't light, this stone would look cut off
where it drops clearly from the shoulders,
its skin wouldn't gleam like the fur of a wild animal,

and the body wouldn't send out light from every edge
as a star does... for there is no place at all
that isn't looking at you. You must change your life.


I had to stop eating, put the book down, and take a second. The last line nearly undid me. Not with the usual sentimental, "Oh, yes, I do have to change my life [bows head and weeps in gratitude and shame]." No it was more like, "Yes, exactly, that's why I've been working so hard for the past few years, why I've been trying to dig myself out of the hole I thought I was in." The world exists, and it's beauty and power demand a response, a decision. You must decide your relationship to this amazing array of sensation and being. You must decide if you are part of it, and if so, how. You must take your place in the world. You must change your life.

Marty's reading ended up being much more interesting than I could have hoped. There was a band backing up the poets - classical guitar, 7 string bass (doubling on flute), clarinet, percussion (rattles, bongos, hi-hat, ride, large cylindrical skin drum, shakers and ephemera), violin (with more electronic toys on it than Ngoma) and trombone. They improvised (a la synonymUS) with the poets - I got the feeling they were sort of new to the whole thing so in some ways they were more interested in listening to each other than the poets. There were a couple of moments of real transcendence, and no one would think that the musicians were anything less than stellar, chops-wise. It made me want to really explore using more texture and less groove with synonymUS. Even the pieces where we don't use the drum machine have a tendency to be of the "slow-jam/pretty walk on the beach" variety. We definitely need to push our boundaries, musically. We've got a couple of things we do well - the noise piece (heavy or sparse groove on 505, distorted and/or delayed guitar, saxophone squonk, maybe violin madness), the pretty piece (clean guitar, light or no groove, flute), the hip-hop-ish thing (bass groove, thump on the 505, sax). Those are our standard operating procedures for the open mic, and I think we ought to start turning off the drum machine and begin demanding more of ourselves. These cats really showed me what's possible in other directions using texture, sparseness and mixing with groove. Also, the addition of other instruments might give us a chance to really make something happen... maybe a cello or somehow bringing that trombone back (anybody know a trumpeter? Or a really good clarinetist?).

Anyway, great night. Marty did her Laci Peterson piece and What Red Learned... both of which were beautiful.

Saturday, relax around the house, try to get tix to go to Albuquerque for nats, finally just decided to wait hoping for a last minute deal. We did book the hotel, however, so there's that. Saw the last night of the show Steph is stage managing, Dying Goldfish and went to the cast party afterwards. Decided to drink, specifically tequila. I am nothing if not disciplined when it comes to substance use. I abide by a few easy to remember rules: stick with one type of alcohol all night, and preferably the same brand. If beer, drink beer, if wine, drink wine - dance only with the girl who brought ya'. Last night, as I mentioned, was tequila, and even more specifically Patron, God love it. I drank several glasses (not shots. You don't shoot Patron, philistines, for the same reason you don't play lawn darts at the Garden of Versailles - that's not what it was made for) of tequila and enjoyed myself immensely. Lovely.

Anyway, that was my weekend, and it's only Sunday. Still have all of today and tomorrow to enjoy. Hope yours goes well, too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Poetry gets you laid, maybe a little transcendence, and not much else...

Ted Kooser on making money in poetry

Ted Kooser is our current Poet Laureate. I instinctively mistrust any appointed position approved by our current monkey-in-chief, but he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. I like him for what he writes, and for his inherent understanding of how we are as poets. We are torn between serious and sexy, between wanting to write "important" poems, and wanting to be adored and understood.

One of the things I've learned recently, or rather, the lesson I am trying to learn, is the fruitful struggle in attempting to reconcile seeming opposites. There seems to be something in this sexy vs. serious thing that seems ripe for that reconciliation. The "difficult" poem has, in the hands of a skillful interpreter, the potential to make itself known.

I remember seeing W.S. Merwin almost 13 years ago, now. He was an OK reader, if memory serves. But he really didn't have me. Then I saw Joy Harjo, and I was devastated. I still remember the poems she read about a woman giving birth in a reservation hospital that knocked me out and left me reeling for days afterwards. That poem changed the way I viewed childbirth, western medicine, and racism. One poem did all that - one poem, and the voice of a powerful interpreter: part teacher, part shaman. She changed my brain permanently.

We have the ability, as performers, to make poetry that is accessible and profound, to guide our listener/readers through the difficult passages with our voices as golden thread.

So, I think there is a fertile middle ground waiting for us to work - performers and poets who can bring our listeners into that liminal space where they are taken beyond hip-hop and moon/june/tune into something more. "Serious" poetry given voice by sexy people who understand how to enjoy and play with the difficulties and the knots. That way we don't have to teach poetry, we create a space in which people can experience it and love it the way we love it.

As a side note, I also love that Kooser worked as an insurance adjustor. I feel you, my brother in insurance.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Great Weekend

Saw Kung Fu Hustle yesterday. What an amazing movie! Seriously, all those people lining up to see Episode III need to get it together and see this instead. It was beautiful, funny, action-packed, emotional, silly – everything I look for in a movie. Plus, KUNG FU! and, ASS-KICKING! Go see it and ignore the Sith. George Lucas is a big boy, now. He doesn’t need any more of your money to support him. Sometimes you have to push the bird out of the nest. George, seriously, think about trade school.

Actually, the whole weekend was pretty much a party of one sort or another. Friday there was a thing at Raj’s place, which involved a lot of music and a lot of alcohol. Steph finally managed to make it out, which was lovely, and she proceeded to get a little pixilated. I myself was at the perfect level – three beers, relaxed but feeling sober as a judge. I attribute that mostly to the maté. If you don’t know maté, it’s a tea from South America that is not made from your traditional black or green or even white tea. It is an entirely different genus and species (specifically Ilex, which is related peripherally to the holly), and you drink it from a hollowed out gourd (also called the maté) through a metal straw with a filter on the tip (called a bombilla). It is usually drunk hot, but not boiling, and the effects are like tea, only much stronger and much longer lasting, without the usual shakes and comedown normally associated with coffee or tea. It also has a great effect on my ability to process alcohol, so that I barely feel the more depressant effects of it, and can stay up later and enjoy myself more. Also the effects of the maté last well into the next day, including clear headedness, much less need for sleep, and a generally cheerful attitude. So I drank several gourd-fulls of maté and went to the party, played a few songs with Ray and Raj spinning, and then enjoyed myself the rest of the night, until the cops came and told us to shut the music down. Feh.

I noticed people weren’t all that interested in dancing when Ray and I were up there. I’m not sure if that is because the tradition of performing dance music is all but lost in these days, or what. I guess we’ve got people trained to “listen” to performing musicians, and dance music is confined to recorded music. It’s a function of the whole celebrity thing, I suppose. Or it could be that we just didn’t quite get the crowd moving, hard to tell.

Saturday was “Give love to Maria” day. Ended up in Brooklyn with some of the loveliest people I know, celebrating our friend Maria’s new job. How awesome is this – she gets a new job as a chef, and so she celebrates by cooking for us! This is why I am blessed beyond belief. A wonderful night, marred not even a little by the incredible storm that raged through the city right as I was arriving in Brooklyn. The sky went green and bruised, and it poured like I haven’t seen in several months. Thunder and lightning and streets running like rivers - it was a joy. I love weather, if for no other reason than that it reminds New Yorkers that we are not Masters of Creation. There is almost nothing in New York that is not placed by the hands of man; not a tree grows, not a rock hunkers by a river but that it is there either in response to or as a direct result of a decision by a human being. We tend to think that the world is malleable to our wills and responsive to our whims. One good storm comes along, though, and we are immediately reminded that we are not completely in control. We are very small animals on the face of a vast globe floating in the definition of vastness. When a small weather system comes along and slaps us upside the head, we become aware of true proportions, and that is always a good thing.

Went to church Sunday, thence home for a nap, out to the movies, and home to memorize poems for Wednesday (see previous post for details). Altogether a wonderful weekend. Hope yours was great, too.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Who is that is speaking?

Regime change is good. This is the new shit, and I desire it. It isn't easy being green, but I'll do my best.


No one knows about this site, so this is somewhat akin to posting a flyer in the janitor's closet of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, but anyway:

Words of Wisdom Series:



Spoken-word and music, every 2nd and 4th Wednesday.

Please join us for a loose, fun--and maybe even a little inspiring--evening

7:30pm open mic (sign up at 7pm)
8pm-10pm featured poets
$5 cover

May 25
Scot Lee Williams
Cheryl Clarke

June 8
Kyra Wolfe

June 22
Rich Villar

(schedule subject to change)

Spoken-Words Cafe is located at 226 4th Avenue (at Union Street)
in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Directions: Take the R to Union Street. Hours: 7pm-2am, 7 days a week.
Info: Call Chief Dayo at (718) 596-3923 or email