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Archive for January, 2021

[with two poems by Lenard D. Moore]

Mockingbird knows both of Blue Jay’s songs: the astringent lament that flings the blue name of the blue Corvid into pathos; the softer plaintive wheedle of him who begs to be thought better of. What does all that conversation signify when it erupts from the beak of the Jay? What meaning has the Mocker usurped, if any meaning at all? Who can listen and understand, and who can answer?

We of different class order family genus species can only speculate why the Mockingbird repeats four times each song he knows, and each song he himself composes, as he hops from the tip of power to the mailbox to the thorn bush and back again and his notes spiral the neighborhood. We are probably safe to bet that Mocker doesn’t care two bits about impressing the Jays. Song as proclamation, song as beacon, song as telegraphy, song as bulwark – let’s just imagine that Mockingbird proclaims music is glory and improvisation is king.

Listen and understand.

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I have known Lenard Moore mainly from his haiku. He points the way to that parallel universe which is only a hairsbreadth from ours and then with observation and pointed brush he opens the door.

I also know Lenard as a teacher and mentor to Carolina writers in many, many different organizations and settings, and particularly I remember a meeting about 10 years ago at Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC. While Bill Blackley played blues harmonica, Lenard riffed and bopped with his jazz poetry. Now I’m holding a book that brings it back: The Geography of Jazz, issued in 2020 by Blair as a reprint of a publication by Mountains and Rivers Press in 2018.

Sultry, syncopated, steamy – if you can read this book without bobbing your head and tapping your foot you need a little more sax in your life.

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At the Train Stop

I imagine the quick hand:
Thelonious Monk waves
at red, orange, yellow leaves
from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.
Alone in this seat,
I peer out the half-window
at the rainbow of faces
bent toward this train
that runs to the irresistible Apple,
determine to imagine Monk
glows like Carolina sun
in cloudless blue sky.
I try so hard to picture him
until his specter hunkers
at the ghost piano, foxfire
on concrete platform.
Now I can hear the tune ‘Misterioso’
float on sunlit air.
If notes were visible,
perhaps they would drift crimson,
shimmer like autumn leaves.
A hunch shudders
into evening, a wordless flight.

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Ascension: John Coltrane

I didn’t pick up the tenor
and soprano saxophones
for legendhood.
I wanted only to explore chords
into progression, step into another world
I had to escape anything too strict,
take ‘Giant Steps’ all the way
from Hamlet, North Carolina.
The music shimmered like a lake
inside me and turned blue.
It was kind of spiritual.
I thought of extending the scales.
I wanted to play on and on,
sail as long as the horn could
and eventually come back again
as if I had never left.
It was maybe the only time
I left my body.

both selections from The Geography of Jazz, Lenard D. Moore, Blair Publishing 2020 reprint, © 2018 Lenard D. Moore

More about Lenard D. Moore, his poetry, and haiku.

 

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Afterword: Old Jay still has a few tricks of his own. He can mimic perfectly the three Buteos in his breeding range: Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged Hawks. Nobody messes with Mr. Blue Jay.


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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

 

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[with two poems by Julie Suk]

Silence does not exist for me. I’ve had my tinnitus mapped by an audiologist: four different frequencies in each ear, one or two dominant (louder!). One tone (on the left) is pitched so low that the only time I’ve heard it was before sunrise in Shining Rock Wilderness (near Mt. Pisgah) – no wind, no birdsong, no people, no machines. The other tones are high pitched, constant whining needles of sound, minor chords that never resolve.

I’ve heard that some people are driven insane by tinnitus. Perhaps you’d better be extra vigilant when you’re around me. Somehow, though, I’ve been blessed with the gift of mostly ignoring it, not caring. I can’t remember a life before I heard this daily continuous ringing screech. Where did it come from? All that target practice earning Marksmanship Merit Badge in Boy Scouts? All those lawns mowed as a kid? All those Grateful Dead and J. Geils Band concerts?

Intrusive noise. Which of us in 2021 doesn’t suffer from such? Thank you, iPhone, for telling me my screen time increased 23% last week. Add to that I’m a terrible meditator. If I try to empty my mind what immediately creeps in to fill the vacuum is regret and guilt for every screwup I’ve ever committed in my entire life. What works better for me is poetry. Feet flat on floor. Deep breaths, in and out. Open the book. Read a page. Stare unfocused into space. What tinnitus?

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At first I’m tempted to apologize for introducing Julie Suk with an essay that endeavors to wring a smile, but no, the light touch is not inappropriate. The poems in Astonished to Wake, Julie Suk’s sixth book published in 2016 when she was 92, are often about loss and all of them are about her own impermanence – they are solemn but they are never grim. The poems are simply perfectly human.

We all share one thing on this earth – our own mortality. Admitting that, we may be open to discover that we share much more: grief that we must live through and live beyond; loves that are no longer present but which still warm us like the dying fire’s embers; moments of joy, however brief.

As I sit down for a couple of hours to re-read this book in its entirety I become thoughtful, reflective, connected, grave, but not sad. And the only ringing I hear is Julie’s words.

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Migrations

A stretto of rain on the windowpane,
a swirl of bees caught in the creek’s overflow,
the yard going under.

Remember how replete our lives once were,
brimming over, the future a muted thunder
drawing us close.

Hold me, hold me

meaning I was fearful the same as you.

Drowning in sweet addictions,
we paused in a childlike daze –

no way to foresee
how and when we’d be swept away,

our bones washed up long after –
perhaps a fragment carved into a flute,

breath,
once again, floating through the wilderness.

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Between Lives

And what if it’s true that the life we’ve lived
flashes by at the moment of death?

Not even for an instant would I want repeated
the boring drone of guilt,
nor the shabby aftermaths of desire.

The black tunnel lit with epiphanies
would be my take –

sighs of contentment, laughter, a wild calling out –

and at the end,
a brief flaring of the one we’d hoped to become
escorting us into the light.

Julie Suk, from Astonished to Wake, © 2016 Jacar Press

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Julie Suk (born Julie Madison Gaillard; 1924) is a prize-winning American poet and writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the author of six volumes of poetry – The Medicine Woman (St. Andrews Press, 1980), Heartwood (Briarpatch Press, 1991), The Angel of Obsession (The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), The Dark Takes Aim (Autumn House Press, 2003), Lie Down With Me (Autumn House Press, 2011), and Astonished To Wake (Jacar Press, 2016), and co-editor of Bear Crossings: an Anthology of North American Poets. She is included in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including The Georgia Review, Great River Review, The Laurel Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Shenandoah, and TriQuarterly.

[Bio from Wikipedia]

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[ with poems by Iain Twiddy and Martin Figura]

Question: What do these 3 scenarios have in common?

1 – “What do you want for supper?”
“I dunno, anything’s OK, whatever you want.”
“I could make some soup.”
“I don’t really feel like soup but anything you want’s OK.”
“I could heat up that Chinese.”
“Nah, I’m all left-overed out.”
“All right, what do you want.”
“I dunno. What do you want?”

2 – “OK Amelia, it’s time for lessons.”
“But I want to color.”
“You know every morning is lesson time. This week is the letter ‘N’.”
“I don’t feel like letters. I want to color.”
“Hmm, how about color for fifteen minutes and then letters?”
[Silence. Wiggles.] “OK. You can set the timer.”

3 – “Damn, look how muddy the creek is today.”
“Yeah, all that rain, looks like tomato soup.”
“It’s all the runoff from those tobacco fields. Isn’t there a law against that?”
“Hey, it’s their land. They can do whatever they want.”
“Maybe so but it’s our drinking water.”

Answer: 3 scenarios, all politics.

Politics with a little ‘p’: transactions in which each party has a stake. No stake = no politics. If it really doesn’t matter what we have for supper then all choices are equal, but if it does matter and I don’t make my position plain then I’m practicing passive aggressive politics. If there’s room within our politics for each of us to have our positions honored then we are practicing egalitarian politics. And if my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are infringed by the practice of your similar rights, then it’s time for reality politics.

Whose stake is most important? Whose voice is loudest? Whose choice carries the greatest weight? Sounds like we’re edging into the realm of big ‘P’ Politics.

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This week I received in the post from Ireland Poets Meet Politics 2020, an anthology of poems from the Hungry Hill Writing Tenth International Open Poetry Competition. The winning poem is Contactless by Isabel Palmer, about COVID-19, but the range of politics with big ‘P’ and little ‘p’ ranges from war, genocide, and sectarian violence to displacement, racism, sexism, redundancy, and annoying neighbors.

These two poems from the anthology in particular spoke to me: the wholeness of the earth cast aside for the extraction of profit; the wholeness of individuals cast aside once profit has been extracted. Whose voices are stifled and ignored? Whose choices are judged unworthy and irrelevant?

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Borderlands

We found the world had already been claimed,
so ground out, drained, ironed in straight lines
– like the bed of the Red Sea to the verges –
that churches were ships, farmsteads treasure islands,

every centimetre weighed up for worth,
milked for produce, mined for living ores.
So existence thinned to frail causeways,
like streaks of light leaking from bellies of cloud,

to quaggy headlands, trench-squidge tracks, rivers
unassailable through the stars of barbed wire,
where even the wind seemed prevailed upon
to hurry and be gone the way of the sea;

we were deigned becks and streams like beaten dogs,
drains that ushered in, eeled for Holland,
fenced-off trees extending the invitation to climb
like an amputated limb, and holiday lashings

of untrampable grass, the spurt of trespass,
the ballast crunchy as bone between tracks,
feeling the self stripped into sin like a corpse
dumped overnight by the trash-flowered siding.

And so it went on, drilling, implanting – until,
surveying the banished domains, roaming
the crumbling borders – it gradually exposed
how if the world was lack, and doing without,

there was nothing to stop us making it up.

Iain Twiddy

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The Remaining Men

When the men surfaced for the last time and dispersed
some were left over. These men wandered about the town
until the each found their own particular sweet spot.
Then they just stood there, looking out over the scarred coast
through red-rimmed eyes to the rough brown sea.

As the days went by people gave up asking them
why so still and could they fetch someone
or something? They became like street signage,
A-boards, parked prams or tied up dogs; something
to be manoeuvred around. As the months when by

the men became hardened to difficult weather
filling their coat pockets with hail. During the great storm
of Eighty-Seven, their caps blew off and went cartwheeling
down the streets with bin lids. As the years went by
the slagheaps faded to green and saplings were planted.

The men began to petrify into monuments. When
the new road for the business park went through
a lot of them were tipped back onto trollies, like the ones
railway porters used to use, then loaded on to flatbed trucks
with the traffic cones. Most were broken down for aggregate.

The lucky ones were sold off as novelty porch lights
and stood outside front doors on the new estate
illuminating small front lawns and driveways.
As the decades went by, saplings became sycamores
and elms and named Colliery Wood. In autumn

the early morning light on them was glorious
and cycle paths made their way there. The remaining
men were defaced by graffiti and badly worn
by then; many considered them to be an eyesore.
When children asked what they were, not everyone

could remember and of those that did, few were believed.
As the centuries went by, they all but disappeared,
only the circle in the park remained. Archaeologists
and historians disagree about how they came to be there
and what they might have been used for.

Martin Figura

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Both selections are from Hungry Hill Writing Anthology: Poets Meet Politics international open poetry competition 2020, judged by Bernard O’Donoghue. Editor Jennifer Russell. © 2020 Hungry Hill Writing and contributors. hungryhillwriting.eu.

Iain Twiddy studied literature an university and lived for several years in northern Japan. His poetry has appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Harvard Review, Stand, The Stinging Fly, and elsewhere.

Martin Figura lives in Norwich with Helen Ivory and sciatica. Together they began hosting Live from The Butchery Zoom readings during Lockdown with leading guest poets. A new edition of Whistle (Cinnamon Press) was published in 2018. His new theatre show Shed is interrupted but ready to go.

My own poem, Phenology Notebook April 7 2020, was shortlisted and appears in the anthology. Thank you!

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AfterwordThe essential benefit of having grandchildren is that they provide the grandparents with something to talk about over supper which is not politics!

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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[with three poems by Wendell Berry]

Y’all sure do favor!

So folks say when they first see my father and me together. He’s 94. I can’t say I see it but others do so there you are.

On the bookshelf in his living room is a small framed photo of my father about age 3, the same age as our grandson Bert right now. Now those two do favor! Two peas in a pod, cut from the same cloth, much of a muchness. Look at them with that one smile between them, look at those eyes, little imps, look at the domes of those foreheads. Let me just scroll through all these photos Bert’s parents have texted us and you’ll surely see how Wilson and Bert favor.

But where are the photos of my father at 3 making a face, lining up his lead soldiers, stacking his rough-cut handmade blocks? Where dancing? I suspect that framed studio portrait was a Christmas present from Grandmother’s brother Sidney – the rest of the family was surviving the depression on grits and squirrel gravy, the occasional bartered hog shoulder, never two nickels to rub together. The rare snapshots we have of aunts and cousins are from Uncle Sidney’s camera, the only one in the family.

Another depression is upon us now. We are all doing without something. Photos abound but Bert is not free to stand beside his great-grandfather, to show us their one smile between them. When will the day return that may show us how much we all do favor?

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The poetry of Wendell Berry returns me to the center: the center of the fields and woods he walks; the center of time that stretches from long before me to long after; the center of meaning in a universe in which I am not the center but which nevertheless makes a place for me.

These three poems are from Mr. Berry’s book Sabbaths, published in 1987. A moment of stillness, of contemplation, of connection to the earth and all that fills it makes any place sacred and any day Sabbath. My dread, my grief, my struggle during these times are no different really from any times. These things don’t recede, they don’t disappear. They simply take their place in this moment: no before, no after, only now, and I and you and all of us connected in the journey to discover within them some promise of peace.

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VIII (1979)

I go from the woods into the cleared field:
A place no human made, a place unmade
by human greed, and to be made again.
Where centuries of leaves once built by dying
A deathless potency of light and stone
And mold of all that grew and fell, the timeless
Fell into time. The earth fled with the rain,
The growth of fifty thousand years undone
In a few careless seasons, stripped to rock
And clay – a “new land,” truly, that no race
Was ever native to, but hungry mice
And sparrows and the circling hawks, dry thorns
And thistles sent by generosity
Of new beginning. No Eden, this was
A garden once, a good and perfect gift;
Its possible abundance stood in it
As it then stood. But now what it might be
Must be foreseen, darkly, through many lives –
Thousands of years to make it what it was,
Beginning now, in our few troubled days.

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X (1982)

The dark around us, come,
Let us meet here together,
Members one of another,
Here in our holy room,

Here on our little floor,
Here in the daylit sky,
Rejoicing mind and eye,
Rejoining known and knower,

Light, leaf, foot, hand, and wing,
Such order as we know,
One household, high and low,
And all the earth shall sing.

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III (1982)

The pasture, bleached and cold two weeks ago,
Begins to grow in the spring light and rain;
The new grass trembles under the wind’s flow.
The flock, barn-weary, comes to it again,
New to the lambs, a place their mothers know,
Welcoming, bright, and savory in its green,
So fully does the time recover it.
Nibbles of pleasure go all over it.

all selections from Sabbaths, Wendell Berry, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1987
Thank you, Anne Gulley, who gave Linda and me this book many years ago.

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