Saturday, August 18, 2012

Culture and Incongruous Trees in the Berkshires

We had the really fine weekend last week, part 2 of my wife's 60th birthday celebration.  (Part one was her ladies-only tea party a couple of weekends ago.)  We took a long weekend trip to the Berkshires in Massachusetts - we'd been there about eleven years ago and really enjoyed it, but only had one of our sons come with us at the time.  This year we took all four and their significant others, and stayed in two 2-bedroom condos at Wyndham Bentley Brook resort.  Getting there was an adventure, with heavy rain for much of the journey, which is usually about four and a half hours from our house.  But once we got there we had a splendid time.  The Berkshires have a lot going on culturally in the summer, so we took advantage of that by attending a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest (starring Olympia Dukakis) on Friday evening, seeing Yo Yo Ma perform Elgar's Cello Concerto at Tanglewood on Saturday (what an amazing and passionate performer he is), plus some shopping and museum-hopping the rest of the time.  We only wished it was longer than four days.

My group, the Quick and Dirty Poets, had our monthly reading last evening, featuring our friend Adele Bourne, who unfortunately lost her husband (and fellow poet) John earlier this year, and who will be moving from the area soon, so it was probably a "farewell" reading for her.  It didn't start auspiciously though - the coffee shop where we always have our readings was inexplicably closed.  We ended up going over to Adele's house to have it there. (She'd already planned to have people over anyway after the reading.) She read poems by John and herself (rather moving, needless to say), followed by readings from the other poets in attendance.  It turned out to be a good evening after all.  Adele's chapbook, A Grocery List and Other Poems, is available from Finishing Line Press and

Now my big news: I was reading the Writer's Almanac interview with Marge Piercy last night (you'll recall I took her week-long workshop on Cape Cod in June).  The interviewer's last question was, what new writers excite her?  She included me in her answer!  Wow - I guess I'll have to live up to that praise now.  She also mentioned my fellow workshop member Shana Ritter, and Maria Gillan, whom many of us New Jersey poets know as the editor of Paterson Literary Review.  It's so cool to get props from a famous writer!

Poem of the Week:  One of the sites we visited last weekend was Mass MOCA, a modern art museum in a converted factory in North Adams.  We'd been there before on our previous trip, and one sight struck me enough to inspire this poem, which appeared earlier this year in the online journal Curio Poetry:

Incongruous Trees  (Mass MOCA Summer 2001)

After wandering the glory of forested Berkshire hills,
we stop one morning at a modern art museum,
a converted factory in an old industrial town.

On the promenade to the entrance
we pass an unassuming row of maples.
Our eyes catch the glint of green above our heads,
where they should be – and we stop in our tracks.

Thre trees are upside-down,
hanging from cables strung across poles.
They grow earthward from metal tubs,
trunks pulled gravity-straight 
leaves clinging in midair, so it seems.

This is a Magritte painting come to  life –
the familiar presented incongruously.
Water drips like IV fluid from hydroponic pots
to grateful foliage below.

We marvel a moment before we proceed,
but the message is delivered:
“Welcome. Come in. 
See how we have played with the world.
Take a look.
And take a look again.” 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Extra: Best Rock Songs of All Time?

Yes, I did submit my list to WXPN for their annual top 885 countdown, this year's theme: "Best Rock Songs of All Time".  I expect the top 100 to be classic-rock heavy, if not most of the list, but it should still be fun.  I decided not to include ballads or songs more on the pop or folk side of rock, focusing instead on personal favorites that really do ROCK, in my humble opinion.  Killer guitar is a general requirement, and passionate vocals are always a plus.  Great lyrics are good but not necessarily essential.  I leaned more toward classic rock of course (consider my demographic!), but tried to include a few less obvious choices from some iconic bands, plus I threw in a few picks from the 80's and the new millennium.  Narrowing it down to ten was excruciating, and I'm sure in the next few weeks I'll hear a song on the radio or a suggestion from a friend and slap myself in the forehead, V-8 style, saying, "Why, oh why, didn't I include THAT one!?"  But what the heck, here it is.  (Argue away!)

1. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
2. Baba O’Riley – The Who
3. Shoot Out the Lights – Richard Thompson
4. Whiskey Train – Procol Harum
5. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix
6. I Got Loaded – Los Lobos
7. Careful with that Axe Eugene – Pink Floyd
8. Why Does Love Got to Be so Sad? – Derek and the Dominoes
9. 10 A.M. Automatic – Black Keys
10. The Rake’s Song – The Decemberists

Honorable Mentions:

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (live at Fillmore East) – The Allman Brothers
Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones
Mattie Groves – Fairport Convention
Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane
Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
Murder or a Heart Attack - Old 97's
Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads
Use It – The New Pornographers
Your Little Hoodrat Friend – The Hold Steady
I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Here Comes My Girl - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
My City Was Gone - The Pretenders
Divine Intervention - Matthew Sweet
Revolution (single version) - The Beatles
Wah-Wah - George Harrison
I Will Dare - The Replacements
She's the One - Bruce Springsteen

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Extra: The Week that Marilyn Died

I just read that today is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death.  For me at least, it's one of those iconic "Where-were-you-when" moments, so I wrote a poem about it several years ago.  I made some revisions and I'm posting it here:

The Week That Marilyn Died

August of  '62, my family camped in High Point State Park.
It rained nearly every day, except the day we went canoeing.
Despite the rain, and the tent that threatened to fall in on us
from its own wetness, we had a good week, except
for one morning when we were cooking breakfast
and listening to the transistor radio –
Marilyn Monroe was dead, it said.
We froze, disbelieving, while the bacon sizzled.

A star, so young and gorgeous - it couldn't be true.
I thought she was the most beautiful woman
I had ever seen. I, the gawky, gangly, eleven-year-old
with horn-rimmed glasses, not quite on the roller coaster
of puberty, who hadn’t yet had his first kiss,
his first prom date, or met the love of his life.

Maybe she was my first love. Back then I thought she was
the ideal against which all women were to be measured.
When I see old photos that preserve her,
twenty-five years younger than I am now,
I still feel a pang of sadness. Like an old girlfriend,
I left her behind, as I moved on to greater things.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dog Days for Phillies, Good Days for Poetry

I can't believe we're into the last full month of summer already! Normally, right now I'd be eagerly following the Phillies in their pennant race, but it was not meant to be this year.  Instead, I sadly watch as their "fire sale" goes on - already Victorino, Pence and Blanton are gone, and there are rumblings that Cliff Lee won't be here next year either.  At least Hamels is sticking around.  Oh well, I guess I can root for them to get out of last place in their division.  Anyone want to make a bet on the date they'll break their string of consecutive sellouts?

I'm home alone tonight blogging away - wife is at a baby shower and son is attending his first rock concert ever with his big brother and friends (Mighty Mighty Bosstones).  Last weekend my wife celebrated her 60th  a little early with a high tea with her lady friends. I don't think I ever worked so hard on a party to which I wasn't invited, but at least I reaped the benefit of leftovers - lots of yummy finger sandwiches and desserts.

In poetry news, my poem "A Day in July" has just been accepted for next year's issue of US 1 Worksheets.  It's their 40th anniversary issue - amazing! Check their link and you will also find my poem from the most recent issue, "Postcard to the Ex". Also, my poem "Careful in the Fog" has just appeared in the new issue of Tilt-a-Whirl.

I've been participating in the Washington Post blog "Style Invitational", moderated by Pat Myers.  She runs a weekly humor contest that's a lot of fun, with nutty prizes for the cleverest entries.  I finally got an Honorable Mention for my entry in the "Ploy to Annoy" contest, where you had to enter a suggestion for a new way to tick people off.  My entry:

"Carry a box of apostrophes with you, so you can insert them around town in correctly punctuated signs. "

Music:  WXPN-FM is soliciting entries in their annual music countdown.  This year's theme is "885 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time".  Just try to come up with only ten favorites - I dare you.  It's a lot harder than it sounds.  I also have been grappling with how to define "rock" here: Should I include rock-n-roll like Chuck Berry?  Folk-rock like Fairport Convention?  Pop-rock like the Beatles?  And how much should I balance the "classics" with more contemporary songs that I love that may not yet be considered classics?  It's a tough list, and i have a tentative top 10, but it changes every time I look at it again.  I'll have something final by next blog.

Poem: Here's one that won 3rd place in the "Nonet Challenge" on Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog last week.  If you don't know, a nonet is a very simple poetic form: nine syllables in the first line, eight in the second, etc., till the last line of just one syllable.  I took the shape such a poem creates and made a concrete poem of sorts:


Pythagoras gave us  all the rules:
the formula works every time.
A squared + B squared =
C squared.  Hypotenuse,
the long sloping side,
connects it all.
One angle
makes it