Friday, September 28, 2007

It's That Time of the Year...

You won't see a lot of sports talk on this site, but I've always been a baseball fan in general and a Phillies fan in particular. A long-suffering Phillies fan, for about 45 years. Most of those years, they were mediocre at best and awful at worst. They had some glory days, too, like the late 70's and early 80's, the heyday of guys like Schmidt and Carlton, and they won their first and only World Series championship in 1980. They've gone to the big dance twice since then, in 1983 and 1993, but lost each time. The last time, Joe Carter of the Blue Jays won the series with a walk-off home run against Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. I could've cried, and some fans probably did. In recent years, the Phillies have tormented us fans with several teams that have come oh-so-close to the playoffs only to miss out in the last week or so of the season. This year is another nail-biter, with the Phils surging of late while the division-leading Mets have been in free-fall. As I write, they are tied for first place in their division with the Mets, with three games left to play. If they can sweep the Nationals, they are pretty much guaranteed at least a wild card spot in the playoffs. Less than that, and it gets more complicated, though if they win at least two out three they have a shot. A lot depends on the Mets, too. So once again, they are about to either pleasantly surprise us with a come-from-behind finish, or let us down for yet another year.

My friend Lorraine wrote a French-form poem called a rondeau which she asked me to critique. That inspired me to write a rondeau for the long-suffering Phillies fan:

We Phillies Fans

We Phillies fans are used to loss,
World Series hopes so often tossed
like errors in the outfield green
or infield dirt – this flawed machine,
this rolling stone that gathers moss.

And yet it’s true some heroes crossed
the diamond – Carlton, Schmidt embossed
in Hall of Fame – the best we’ve seen,
we Phillies fans.

Too often by October frost
our chance of any title’s lost.
But then there’s ’80: Dallas Green
brought home the crown, and we could preen
and strut around like we were boss,
we Phillies fans.

More poetry news: for the second year in a row, my name is in The Poet's Market, the "bible" of any poet striving to be published. My name appears as a contributor in three journals (Baby Clam Press, Chantarelle's Notebook, and Sunken Lines), and my chapbook, Wire to the Heart, is cited in the listing of my publisher, Maverick Duck Press. It helps to have friends who are editors, LOL. I'm very flattered to be mentioned by them - thanks again, Kendall, Andrea and Paul!

Music: Not much to report - I did download two CD's by Beirut, a band that could best be described as "alternative gypsy" music. I'm not kidding. They have a distinctive Eastern-European sound, with mostly acoustic instruments the likes of fiddle, ukelele, accordion, bass drum, trumpets, hurdy-gurdy, etc. It's fascinating stuff. If you like big-sounding, melodramatic bands like Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, and even Sufjan Stevens' bigger productions, you may like these guys. Get either Gulag Orkestar or the EP Lon Gisland. Or like me, you can get both.

Top Ten List: Pop Songs about Baseball

1. Glory Days - Bruce Springsteen
2. Centerfield - John Fogerty
3. Mrs. Robinson - Simon and Garfunkel ("Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio...")
4. Right Field - Peter, Paul and Mary
5. Did You Ever See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? - Count Basie
6. A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request - Steve Goodman
7. Catfish - Bob Dylan
8. Talkin' Baseball - Terry Cashman
9. Cheap Seats - Alabama
10. The Greatest - Kenny Rogers

Go Phillies!!!!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Going Green!

Well, I feel I'm doing my small bit for the environment: I just bought a hybrid vehicle, a "pre-owned" (they don't say "used" any more) 2006 Ford Escape, and so far I love it. It gets 31 mpg on the highway and 36 in the city - the reason for the better city mileage is that at lower speeds it kicks into electric-only mode. Very cool - this car does not "idle" in the traditional sense of the word, either. In fact, it feels like it shuts down when you come to a complete stop. That's got to be better emissions-wise. I'm eating my words though - I vowed several years ago I would never buy an SUV. But it's okay because this is a relatively small one and it's "green". If I had the option, I'd buy an all-electric car. (See the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? for an eye-opening story of what happened recently to that short-lived market.)

In honor of that, my Music Top Ten this week is "Songs with an Environmental Theme":

1. Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
2. If a Tree Falls - Bruce Cockburn
3. Pollution -Tom Lehrer
4. Blue Water - Poco
5. Nothing But Flowers - Talking Heads (a rather ironic spin on the topic)
6. To the Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind on the Water) - Crosby and Nash
7. Whose Garden Is This? - Tom Paxton
8. World Party - World Party
9. It's a Different World Now - Rodney Crowell
10. Don't Kill the Whale - Yes

Thanks again to XPN "boardie" buddies for some of these suggestions.

Some of my recent CD discoveries:

A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder: The driving force behind The New Pornographers put out this solo album about 3 years ago, and it's excellent power-pop. A number of tunes are as good as the best of NP, especially "The Town Halo" and "On the Table" - catchy, brilliant stuff.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible: I'm still warming up to this one, but it's got at least one thing going for it: "No Cars Go" is one of the best damn songs of the year.

Matt Pond PA - The Green Fury: These guys are becoming one of my favorite "new" bands. Sound a bit like the Shins but a little mellower. This 2002 release has been my entry point to their full-length catalog.

Here's one I wrote about visiting my poet friend James Byrne (editor of The Wolf) in London in 2005. It was nominated for a "Best of the Net" award by Sunken Lines:

Down from Hampstead

(for J.B.)

At the top of the climb
the Spaniard’s is closed,
so we hike to another café

for screw-top Rothschild
and a sandwich of rocket and egg,
then out to the overlook –

the city laid out like our oyster
(and I with my card) –
before we descend to the town,

muck of the Heath still on our shoes.
(Mine, camouflage brown; yours red –
do the angels still want to wear them?)

We accost bookshops and barkeeps,
clink cheers with a pint or two, or more,
and carry on to our true destination,

a cramped and smoky club
packed with fellow travelers
guilty of poetry,

cleaning the muck
from their own psychic shoes,
with a stiff brush of language.

After words, another pint
chased by last orders,
the night thus rolled in.

Trading valedictions,
we carry good books and thoughts back
to our own little nooks of the world.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

September Transitions

It's a significant month in my house for two reasons: (1) my youngest started middle school this past week, and (2) my second-oldest is finally cutting the cord and getting his own place. My sixth-grader seems to like his new school (the Catholic school at my wife's parish), and I hope it will be a comfortable fit - he's a kid who does better in a structured environment, and he and his mom have been active in the parish for some time now. My second-oldest got a nice roomy two-bedroom apartment about two miles from home and is rooming with his old high-school buddy. But it's been a long gradual transition as he moves all his stuff out of the house.

Poetry: Still not much going on poetry-wise. I'm becoming very annoyed with myself for my lack of production. And I still haven't heard from Poetry Magazine, which has me worried. I thought I would have heard from them by now, one way or the other. I submitted in mid-June and they were supposed to respond within 6-8 weeks. I just wish if they were going to reject me they'd just let me know, because they're holding what I consider four of my best unpublished poems. I've heard from one of the editors of US1 Worksheets, though, and she wanted me to send her more poems. It was her nice way of saying they didn't like the first five enough to publish them - at least I'm getting a second chance. She said I "spoiled" them with "Chocolate and Tylenol" last year (see previous post), which may be the best sonnet I ever wrote.

Music: Not much here lately either, but I did get Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass recently from Freaking brilliant album! A lot of folks thought it was one of 2006's best, and I see why. In my opinion, they do what Wilco have been trying to do on their last three albums.

Top Ten: Combining my two favorite topics - songs about poets or poetry:

1. Poetry Man - Phoebe Snow
2. Walt Whitman's Niece - Billy Bragg and Wilco
3. The Dangling Conversation - Simon and Garfunkel
("And you read your Emily Dickinson/And I my Robert Frost...")
4. Tangled Up in Blue - Bob Dylan
("Then she opened up a book of poems/And handed it to me/Written by an Italian poet/
From the thirteenth century....")
5. Cemetery Gates - The Smiths
("So I meet you at the cemetery gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side/While Wilde is on mine....")
6. Poets - The Tragically Hip
7. Poet - Sly and The Family Stone
8. Sylvia Plath - Ryan Adams
9. Bukowski - Modest Mouse
10. Desolation Row - Bob Dylan
("And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers....")

Poem of the Week: Here's my most recent haiku (actually a senryu), returning to my original topic.

new clothes and backpack
a big smile on the face
of his mother