Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poem-a-Day and Albums of the Year

I made it! Once again, I managed to churn out 30 poems (actually, 31) for the Poetic Asides blog’s November “Poem-a-day Chapbook Challenge”. Props to Robert Lee Brewer for keeping us going with good writing prompts. I think the “theme” concept attracted more serious poets this time, and it showed in the general quality of the work posted there. Now he’s challenging us to fashion a chapbook out of what we produced, and submit to him and his wife so they can judge a “winner” (though the “prize” may not be more than bragging rights). I just may take him up on that – I have 31 new music-themed poems, of which at least 10-15 of them may be ready to go, and I can fill up the collection with some previously written pieces on the theme.

My poetry group’s journal, Up and Under: The QND Review, is moving right along, and we now have about a dozen poems as definite acceptances. This means, of course, that there’s still plenty of room for good poetry if you want to submit. Click here to reach our website.

Music: There are already lots of best-of-the-year lists either already out or in process, including NPR blogs, Paste Magazine, WXPN, eMusic, etc. I’ve compiled my list too, and I’ve sent variations on it to the various sites that solicit votes for favorites. Though it’s still not written in stone, here’s my top 30 for 2008, with some comments:

1. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady: I agree with Paste Magazine, who said these guys used to have a lock on the being best bar band in America, and now they’re one of the best bands in America, period. Best songs: Most of them, but “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Slapped Actress” are my favorites.
2. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: Sprightly Afro-pop from an unlikely source: a group of young guys from Brooklyn. Best songs: “A-Punk”, “Cape Cod Kwaasa Kwaasa”.
3. Fate – Dr. Dog: Philly band with a lot of 60’s psych-pop sensibility – this is their best album to date. Best Songs: “The Breeze”, “My Friend”.
4. Accelerate – R.E.M.: My vote for Comeback of the Year – their best since Monster, maybe better. Best songs: “Living Well is the Best Revenge”, “Man-sized Wreath”.
5. Viva la Vida – Coldplay: After a weak previous album in X&Y, they’re back with what may be their best album yet. Watch this one at Grammy time. Best songs: “Viva la Vida”, “Lost!”
6. Real Animal – Alejandro Escovedo: The venerable roots rocker just seems to get better and better. Best songs: “Always a Friend”, “Sister Lost Soul”.
7. The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow : Fourth album by the Brit band that seems to combine the best of Coldplay and Radiohead, and here, a dash of Peter Gabriel. Best songs: “Grounds for Divorce”, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”.
8. A Larum – Johnny Flynn: Brit-folk singer-songwriter backed by a very capable band, the Sussex Wit. May be the heir apparent musically to Richard Thompson (sorry, Teddy). Best songs: “The Box”, “Tickle Me Pink”.
9. Flock – Bell X1: Band sometimes referred to as the “Irish Coldplay” – best-sellers in their home country and for good reason. This was released a couple of years ago there but just came out in the States this year. Best songs: “Rocky Took a Lover”, “Bad Skin Day”.
10. Worrisome Heart – Melody Gardot: Philly chanteuse has an inspiring story (recovered from a near-fatal accident), but all that aside, she has a wonderful jazzy style and sophisticated original songs. If you like Norah Jones, you’ll love this gal. Best songs: “Worrisome Heart”, “Love Me Like a River Does”.

The rest:
11. The Midnight Organ Flight – Frightened Rabbit
12. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie
13. Gift of Screws – Lindsey Buckingham
14. The ’59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem
15. Soldier On (EP) – Andrew Bird
16. Blame it on Gravity – Old 97’s
17. Angels of Destruction! – Marah
18. Life Like – The Rosebuds
19. Volume One – She & Him
20. Oracular Spectacular – MGMT
21. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
22. Mockingbird – Allison Moorer
23. The Stand Ins – Okkervil River
24. Golden Delicious – Mike Doughty
25. Everything that Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne and Brian Eno
26. Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails – The Baseball Project
27. Rambling Boy – Charlie Haden and Friends
28. Carried to Dust – Calexico
29. Mescalito – Ryan Bingham
30. 49:00 – Paul Westerberg

Poem of the Month:
Here’s the poem that Thick with Conviction picked as their “best of issue” for their October issue:

Old Man at Bedtime

At ten-thirty he sits at the edge of his bed
and swallows the last pills of the day,
then draws water from a straw
stuck in his favorite cup.
He places it on the night table,
then pulls two tissues from a box,
folding them in neat triangles
and tucking them into his pajama
shirt pocket (always blue plaid).
He removes his glasses, folds them,
and places them next to the cup.
His rosary beads lie on the bed
like a cross in a pile of beans,
but he has placed them exactly
two inches below the left corner
of his pillow, as he does every night.

You have to have a ritual
when you get old, he explains.
Otherwise you lose your place,
become confused, unmoored,
adrift in the mystery of your own house.

He turns off the light, reclines
on his right side, clutching the beads,
and begins with a prayer
modified from childhood
and covering all possibilities:
that he will wake again tomorrow
and begin his well-mapped routine
or not.