Monday, July 30, 2007

Sing-Song Sonnets and '07 CD's

Still feeling like I'm in the poetry doldrums, though I enjoyed hosting my Quick and Dirty peeps last week. We had a good meeting - Kendall arrived early so we got to b.s. about music before Anna and Andrea showed up. I offered up a sonnet for critique, which Anna, our formal verse maven, liked but suggested that the meter was "too perfect". I know what she means, and it's a weakness of mine when I write formal verse - I tend to try so hard to get the meter right (iambic pentameter, in this case) that it often comes off "sing-songy". Modern formal verse likes to mix things up a little, with enjambment and variations in the meter here and there, and the best formal verse doesn't even sound like it when read aloud. Anna's quite good at it. My sonnet will be better with some tweaking. I was also asked to approach Aaren Yates Perry, an area poet whose workshop I took at this year's Philadelphia Writers Conference, to be our guest poet when we begin our readings this fall at The Daily Grind in Mt. Holly. More on that later.

My latest publication is on a new online journal called Word Catalyst, edited by one of my acquaintances, Shirley Allard. The poetry is a bit "traditional", but I'm happy to be part of it, and the August issue features two of my "older" poems, one about my Indian "e-pal" and one I wrote a few years ago about my grandmother, who passed away this year.
Also, I found out about the Shadow Poetry Biennial Chapbook Contest: I didn't win. I lost to a collection called Faerie Folk and Fireflies. Go figure. I did get 9th place, which entitles me to a 25% discount on a chapbook publication with them. I doubt I'll take them up on it, though.

Music: Finally, I'm getting up to speed on the 2007 album releases. My latest acquisitions were Hoots and Hellmouth (whom I saw at the Xponential Music Festival a couple of weekends ago) and Lily Allen's Alright, Still. I'm still deciding how much I like her, but she will probably end up on my ultimate best-of-the-year list. So far, my top faves are:

1. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
2. Feist - The Reminder
3. Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior
4. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
5. Peter, Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
6. Son Volt - The Search
7. John Bulter Trio - Grand National
8. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
9. Ryan Shaw - This Is Ryan Shaw
10. Loreena McKennitt - An Ancient Muse
11. Norah Jones - Not Too Late
12. Hoots and Hellmouth - Hoots and Hellmouth
13. The Smithereens - Meet the Smithereens
14. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
15. Various Artists - Endless Highway: The Music of the Band

I'm probably forgetting one or two others, and the list will certainly change before the end of the year, but there it is for what it's worth.

Poem of the Week: Oh, I don't know. How about this one, which was published in Mad Poets Review and The Wolf (UK) a couple of years ago:


There is no translation for silence.
For touch, there are volumes.

I have never astounded you, yet
you invite me with every look.

So often you are as close as pain.
My joints ache, as before a storm.

I am awash in your affection, but
the lightning always seems to miss.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sad Poetry News, Happy Music News

It's interesting how we make friends these days on the internet. Most of us with some degree of life experience can intuitively tell when we're meeting someone genuine, and it's really possible to form a "friendship" electronically. That said, when you lose a friend you've met this way, it's almost as intense as losing any other friend. My Canadian poet friend Maureen Glaude passed away this past week after a long battle with cancer. She was 53. She was well-loved on, and she was a talented and active woman who always had kind words for everyone. She was a very good poet, and I especially liked her haiku, so in her memory I wrote a haiku for her:

her desk lamp turned out -
the Ottawa skyline
is one light dimmer

You can visit her library here.

On a somewhat more upbeat note, I will have a few poems appearing in a new online journal called Word Catalyst, in August and September. More on that later.

Music: I attended WXPN's "Xpontential Music Festival" at Wiggins Park in Camden NJ on Saturday. (It's actually a 4-day festival, but I could only get away for one.) The weather was picture-perfect, and a couple of my friends and I enjoyed some really fine music. In order of favorites, I heard:

1. Los Lonely Boys - I knew I liked these guys - I have a few of their albums - and I'd heard how they can tear it up live. Now I know. They were fantastic! The three Garza brothers, on guitar, bass and drums, are amazingly talented musically, a mix of Santana, Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, what they call "Texican rock n'roll". Some folks might think their performance was a bit showy and over the top, but they got everyone on their feet and got the biggest cheers of the night. And granted, they could be better lyricists. But man, that doesn't matter much when they play like they do.

2. The Cat Empire - The biggest surprise of the day for me. This six-piece band from Australia plays a blend of ska, rock, jazz and a pinch of hip-hop, with great percussion, keyboards, rhythm guitar, vocals and two trumpets. My son listened to them and said they sounded like what would happen if G. Love started a ska band. Sounds about right. They also remind me a little bit of Cake. They had lots of energy, and the majority of the XPN "boardies" I surveyed thought they were the best act of the day.

3. Will Hoge - This guy from Nashville had a cookin' roots-rock band, almost a Springsteen kind of vibe going on. The other pleasant surprise of the day.

4. Ryan Shaw - This young soul singer with a strong gospel background (and his frequent references to God made that obvious to the crowd) has an amazing set of pipes and sounds like a throwback to 60's and 70's Motown and Memphis sounds. No surprise, though, as I was already a fan - I downloaded his album from iTunes a few weeks ago. I got to meet him afterward and got an autograph - nice guy.

5. Hoots and Hellmouth - a local acoustic band that's getting some good national buzz, with an eccentric, passionate leader. Hard to describe them - kind of a bluegrass/folk-rock jam band. I liked them.

6. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - I left during their set only because I was getting tired and wanted to beat the crowds, but she and her band were a good blues-rock unit. A bit anticlimactic though, after Los Lonely Boys tore up the place.

7. Martin Sexton - a excellent singer-songwriter, but someone had to be last on this list. Suffice to say I didn't hear anyone on Saturday I didn't like.

There was one downside to the day, but not personally. Some drunk in an SUV rammed through the gates and plowed into a trailer in the festival area. A couple of people were injured, but fortunately not seriously. All in all, it was a good day for music.

Monday, July 16, 2007

MMMM (Most Memorable Music Moments)

Supplemental music entry: WXPN just announced their "885 Greatest" list for this year: they've had great countdowns the last 3 years featuring the 885 greatest songs, albums, and artists of all time, as voted by the listeners. This year it's a more personal theme: "885 Most Memorable Music Moments". It's up to us to decide whether to include archival, historic moments that affected everyone, or personal moments that were special to the individual. Just off the top of my head, here's a chronological list of 10 moments that were most memorable for me:

1. 1964: The Beatles on Ed Sullivan (everyone my age will have this one on their list!)
2. 1967: Hearing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the very first time.
3. 1969: Attending the Atlantic City Pop Festival (2 weeks before Woodstock and every bit as good, but without the mud).
4. 1969: Seeing Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard.
5. 1971: Getting a DJ job at my college radio station, WRLC, Livingston College (Rutgers U.)
6. 1986: Hearing my very first song on CD ("Bloody Well Right" by Supertramp) - I bought my first CD player a week later.
7. 1987: Winning a one-hour gig as "guest DJ" on WIOQ-FM in Philly. (They switched from adult alternative rock to oldies two weeks later - it wasn't my fault!)
8. 1992(?): Singing the chorus to an acoustic cover of "In Your Eyes" with Jeffrey Gaines (and the rest of the audience) at the WXPN "5-Star Night" at Mann Music Center in Philadelphia - the recording of that concert performance later became a popular radio hit.
9. 1999: Meeting my musical idol, Richard Thompson, at the WXPN "Singer-Songwriter Weekend".
10. 2005: Getting my first iPod.

Perhaps, if you are so inclined, you'd like to share your top musical memories here. Don't be shy!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Haiku and The Best Music Year

Good news on the publication front: I had four haiku published in an Australian print haiku journal, Paper Wasp - yesterday I got their Winter 2007 issue in the mail (I did a double-take -isn't it a little late for Winter 2007? Then I realized that it's winter now Down Under.) It's exciting because it's the first time I've had haiku published in a "legitimate" haiku-only journal. (I've had a few published a few years ago in journals that weren't exclusively for haiku, which means they are a little less selective in regard to the form.) I'd tried some of the better American haiku journals (Frogpond, The Heron's Nest, The Acorn, and Roadrunner) but to no avail. Then a poetry acquaintance on the poetry community site, (who happens to be an excellent, award winning haiku poet) suggested I try Paper Wasp. Good advice - thank you, Agnes! Here are the haiku they published (you won't find them on their website, but maybe later when they feaure selections from their 2007 issues):

April snow
almost as white as
the apple blossoms


slice a peach
surprise the sunrise


humid evening -
mosquitoes sing in my ear
before dinner


morning rain -
under the weeping cherry
a dead robin


Music: Downloaded from iTunes, Writers Block by Swedish band Peter, Bjorn and John (or "PB&J" as they're cleverly known) - really good album with an eclectic range of pop stylings. "Young Folks" is the breakout track, and after repeated listenings it's become a bit annoying (a bit on the "twee" side with a lost of whistling). But the rest of the album is definitely worthwhile.

WXPN, my favorite radio station on the planet, had a really fun programming day on Saturday - they played nothing but songs from 1967. Pop, rock, psychedelia, blues, jazz, country, folk, just about every genre. What a great year for music! Maybe I'm only saying that because i was 16 at the time, but still, I'll put that it up against any other when it comes to great music years. This was the year of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's..., The Doors first album, Buffalo Springfield's second album, Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, Aretha Franklin's "Respect", James Brown's "Cold Sweat", Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced?, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, Cream's Disraeli Gears, and debut albums from The Grateful Dead, Velvet Underground, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin), and Procol Harum, and a whole bunch of classic Motown hits.

Still dealing with car woes, but won't bore you with the details. That's it for now!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cars Redux

More car misfortune: Last Tuesday my son, who's only been driving regularly for about a month (to work and back mostly) was rear-ended about four blocks from home while stopped to make a left-hand turn. The woman who struck him said she was distracted by a young bicycler who threatened to swerve in front of her. The car, a 1992 Plymouth, is totaled. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Ironically, the other driver is a personal injury lawyer, but she admitted from the beginning that it was her fault, and her insurance company intends to pay for everything. Of course, we'll be lucky to get more than $2000 for the car, even though it had only about 86,000 miles on it. So now we are in the unusual position of having had two serious accidents in the family within 10 days of each other (neither of which was our fault). Fortunately again, our insurance has a rental car provision, so my wife and I are driving his-and-hers Ford Focuses until things get sorted out with our cars. And we still have the other two cars which the sons will drive.

Not much new on the poetry front - still in a major creative slump. Waiting to hear on my other submissions. Picked up a volume of poetry by A.R. Ammons which I intend to read.

Music: I just saw the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston - fascinating bio of a creative but tortured soul - sort of like Brian Wilson but even further out there. He grew up in West Virginia in a fundamentalist Christian household but always aspired to be a songwriter. artist and musician. He chronicled his life from his early teens through a series of home movies and self-produced music tapes, and he had a history of mental illness - mainly manic depression with paranoid delusions. But he developed a cult following largely from his tireless self-promotion - he serendipitously landed in Austin, Texas in the mid-1980's just as that city's music scene was exploding, and succeeded not only in winning some awards at the annual music festival, but even insinuating himself onto MTV. But mainstream fame always eluded him, despite having influential fans like Kurt Cobain and Yo La Tengo. He sabotaged a generous major label contract because he was too paranoid at the time to sign it, and he went through a period where he ranted on about the Devil (hence the movie's title). But it's a fascinating film, and he's had a bit of redemption in the end. See it if you can.

Most recent album acquisitions:
1. Dog Problems by the Format (bombastic power pop - think Queen and Jellyfish with a dash of Squeeze thrown in, and a bit of old-style dance hall music)
2. This is Ryan Shaw by Ryan Shaw (a throwback to the old 60's and 70's Memphis soul sound, and he's got a great voice to carry it).

That's all for now - I'll give you my latest poem, a "double dactyl" (a humorous form invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal) about our "leader of the free world".

Dubya Dactyl

Hubble-yoo, bubble-yoo,
President “W”,
malaprop champ, no one
else can compete.

His forte’s not to speak
extemporaneous –
with foot-in-mouth one can’t
think on one’s feet.