I am extremely grateful to editor Zvi Sesling for publishing two of my poems in the Fall 2016 issue of Boston’s Muddy River Poetry Review.
Both of my poems in this issue explore themes and situations from domestic life. The inspiration for “Our Father of the Airport” actually did unfold at Gate A18 of the Atlanta Airport, while I waited for a connecting flight on a visit with my in-laws. I really did look up from my pleasure reading to see a young father smiling down at the tiny boy on his lap, looking for all the world like the Virgin Mary in all those Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child. I let my imagination play with this idea of a “male Madonna and Child,” and the result is “Our Father of the Airport.”
In “Privacy, Suburban Style” I wrestle with the surreal and unnatural hush that social decorum and respect for the boundaries of others dictate must surround a tragic event. The poem holds everything at a distance, and I still lament that many preset-day communities in American society, at least, often have no universally accepted rituals and even no language and for simply offering help and love to those who suffer in deeply personal situations.
Reading a poem is one thing, hearing a poet read his or her poetry can be quite another.
We live in an exciting time, when audio recording technology, radio, and the Internet allow our voices to be in many different places at once. Although poetry as a performance art has been around since cavemen acted poems out to their families. Now, radio and podcasting allow poetry to be everywhere at the touch of a button.
As the poem’s title suggests, I took inspiration for “Baby Buggy Boogie-Woogie (Homage to Piet Mondrian)” from Mondrian’s famous 1942 painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie, which shows red, yellow, and blue squares bebopping along in a New York City street grid pattern.
I thought it could be nifty to juxtapose the jazzy urban energy of Mondrian’s painting to the realm of suburban busy-ness. The more specific image of a suburban mom pushing her baby in a buggy while taking her power walk came to mind. I wanted to capture the jazzy feel of Mondrian’s painting and so relied on my ear to create syncopations in the rhythm of the language and to make the surface sound of the language crackle with alliteration and assonance. I also coined a couple new words (“mothersome,” “babyescent”) to give the poem a whimsical feel. The result is a poem whose music lends itself well to being heard read aloud.
I hope you enjoy the poem and the podcast. Drop me a line and let me know.
Just the other day, I logged on to do a simple search for something on the Web. I ended up getting sucked in, clicking my way from link to link as through tripping along a stepping stone path that made Homer’s Odyssey seem like the travelogue of a summer road trip.
But, much as I did online the other day, I digress.
While tooling around in that virtual rabbit hole, I discovered quite by accident that two of my haiku had been published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of the Oxford, England-based World Haiku Review. And not only that – one of those haiku had actually won Third Place in the “Vanguard” category, and the other was published as a “Haiku of Merit” in the “Neo-Classical” category.
World Haiku Review describes Vanguard haiku as “the most radical” treatments of the haiku genre. Here’s my haiku in that category. I don’t stick to the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count, and there’s an uncomfortable tension between nature and human nature that complicates how the relationship between humans and the natural world is portrayed in traditional haiku.
World Haiku Review uses the term “Neo-Classical” to designate what they describe as “the most traditional” haiku they publish. Scroll down a bit to see my Neo-Classical “Haiku of Merit.”
It is telling, the events we watch for each year in order to keep ourselves from falling off the calendar.
For some, Halloween means it’s autumn, Christmas means winter’s here, and the start of baseball season means summer has arrived.
When I started growing garlic, I discovered a whole new way of keeping track of the cycles of the seasons, a whole new way of telling time. I call it Garlic Time, and each year it tells me something about itself – and about me.
We started growing garlic several years ago when a friend showed us the garlic harvest from her own garden. Before that point, we had never considered growing garlic. But we immediately went for the idea of adding garlic to our garden and being able each year to make quite possibly the freshest, loveliest marinara sauce on the planet.
Around that time, and quite by coincidence (though really, I don’t believe in coincidences), an acquaintance offered me a bulb of heirloom garlic from her garden to plant for the following year’s crop. I took her up on it. My life has never been the same.
It was late summer when I picked up that first bulb of heirloom garlic. Garlic likes to grow during the winter, when the earth is cold and mounded with snow but wrapped by the generous glow of the sun. Our friend had told us to plant the garlic cloves around late October. And it was a challenge not to rip through the garlic bulb’s pearly white wrapping paper and pluck off a couple of cloves for sauce and bruschetta with that year’s tomato harvest, for pesto with that year’s basil. We placed the garlic bulb in a spot on our kitchen counter reserved specially for it and waited until the
There, in that spot, the garlic was Zen in action, or, rather, non-action. Each day the garlic rested on the counter, and I picked it up, felt the rounded contours of the outer cloves with my fingertips, watched the light beam through the sheer, creamy paper. I’d hold the garlic bulb in my palm, envisioning the chilly October day when I could tear through the paper like a kid at Christmas, separate the cloves, and nestle each one, pointy end up, in its own little burrow of cool earth. Then I’d put the garlic clove back in its spot on the counter and bide my time.
Eventually Halloween rolled around, and the next day I went out, garlic and digger in hand, to our garden plot. My work was methodical: dig a hole, plant a clove, cover the clove with earth. I marked the locations the planted cloves by placing a mid-size stone right in front of each covered hole.
Then I went back inside. And waited.
We waited through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. We waited through the dead of winter. We waited through Ash Wednesday and the umbrous gravity of Lent as the garlic’s green slips ascended from their hollows. Then Easter came, along with the flowering of daffodils, and the garlic slips stood ever taller. The hostas curled up from the earth and tulip season came and went, and we waited. Memorial Day, the last day of school, the Fourth of July – still, we waited.
Then one mid-July day, the green garlic slips fell over onto their sides, just as my friend had told us they would.
Finally, it was time.
I dug a dozen new garlic bulbs out of the earth and took them inside, giddy with the bounty. I washed the bulbs, lay them on a cooling rack to dry, and imagined next year’s harvest with enough garlic to hang in pendulous braids all around the kitchen.
Then I did the math and realized that, for my dream to come true, we would need to plant – not eat – every delicious clove of the garlic I had just harvested. And, ideally, then some.
In other words, we would need to wait some more.
Garlic Time is about waiting. It is about knowing when the time is right, and only then doing what needs to be done. Garlic is individualistic; it lives on its own schedule. It doesn’t grow with the tomatoes and zucchini and other stuff of summer gardens. It waits until the earth goes to sleep, then wraps up, hermit-like, in its cool, dark cave. When the earth is warming and the summer plants are just getting started, the garlic is coming of age, in its own time.
I’ve come to love living on Garlic Time. The middle of the summer is marked not by the Fourth of July, but by the slanting of the garlic slips and the harvesting of the crop. Fall arrives not when the leaves change colors, but when we plant the garlic cloves for next year’s crop. Winter’s here when we find ourselves looking out the window for green slips poking through the snow. And spring has come when we finally see them.
All of this works on its own schedule, different from the rest of the world, and will not be rushed. This, too, is the wisdom of Garlic Time.
In my work as midday host and broadcast producer for WOSU Public Media’s Classical 101 radio station, I have had interviewed countless world-class classical musicians at pivotal moments in their careers.
Recently, I spoke with members of the Cypress String Quartet, just a few days before the group performed its farewell concert at San Francisco’s War Memorial, disbanding after two decades on the international stage.
The Cypress Quartet’s story is quite interesting. Many top-drawer musicians form quartets with an eye toward someday performing the monumental cycle of Beethoven’s quartets. But the Cypress formed specifically to work on Beethoven’s quartets, and did just that from Day One, developing a reputation – a brand, if you will – as a “Beethoven” quartet of their 20-year career.
This legacy lives on in the Cypress Quartet’s acclaimed recordings of the complete Beethoven string quartets, and elsewhere in the ensemble’s discography.
Many thanks to editor Miriam C. Jacobs for publishing my poem “One-eyed” in the July 2016 issue of Eyedrum Periodically, the literary journal of Atlanta’s Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery. This issue of Eyedrum Periodically is on the theme “Broken,” a true goldmine for poets, who don’t miss a beat when it comes to the wrongness of the world.
“One-eyed” explores both the desperate reality and the exquisite beauty of our human brokenness. The poem was inspired by our dog, Jack, a one-eyed rescue pug who was starved to skin and bones during his first year of life, before we adopted him. We’re not certain what happened during that first year, but Jack might have been born in a puppy mill and, because of his noticeably defective left eye at birth (and since removed), shunted aside for the “reject” pile.
Whatever the reasons, Jack early on grew to fear strangers. But he is a pug and, by nature, a love muffin, and fell in love with us not long after we adopted him. He is extraordinarily protective. I am convinced that he would fight to the death were he to perceive any threat to us.
I am convinced of this because Jack has taken it upon himself to look out our front window now and then each day on what we call “neighborhood watch.” At most, he sees our neighbors across the street going into and out of their homes, working – or in the case of the kids, playing – in their yards, and just generally, as poet James Agee put it, “standing up into their sphere of possession.” And, as I wrote in “One-eyed,” Jack “barks and barks and barks” at our neighbors being neighbors because he’s afraid.
And because he’s broken.
But lest I leave you on a down note, I must also say that, as broken as Jack’s little soul might remain, there is no creature more joyous, more beautiful, more fully himself than One-Eyed Jack. Daily he teaches me that it is possible to live and love through one’s brokenness, that, in fact, one’s brokenness is where we are who we really are, under the wrappers we try to hide behind. Jack’s brokenness reminds me of the world’s need for love.
In that sense, we are all one-eyed. We are all beautifully broken.
There are a lot of voices out there. The voices of Madison Avenue hucksters hawking the Next Big Thing. The voices of politicians doling out demagoguery left, right, and (rarely) center. The voice of your mother. Your father. Your older brother, who once shaved your eyebrows off while you were asleep. Sister Mary Margaret, your fourth grade math teacher, who, because of your lousy recitation of the multiplication tables, told you you’d never amount to much. Your boss. Your yoga instructor. Your spouse.
Some of these voices are for the helpful (imagine the vocal effervescence of Glenda the Good witch), but some are not. The sum total of all of them is a certain cacophony that threatens to paint over your own voice, to mow down what you think you need to say.
As a musician, poet, and broadcaster, my own voice – metaphorically and literally understood – has found many ways to make its presence known. Like all writers, I am sensitive to the figurative notion of authorial “voice,” the special way a writer makes words foxtrot across the page or screen. As a singer and broadcaster, I pay great attention to the voice as a literal thing – a body part to take care of an instrument to master – in my daily work.
In naming this blog Inner Voices, I am honoring the special resonance of voice broadly construed and borrowing from musical lingo, which is so beguilingly expressive. In musical parlance, an inner voice is a line of music that is neither the melody line nor the bass line, but rather a line buried, as it were, in the middle of the texture.
Far from serving as merely a supporting actor, an inner voice gives a musical work depth, richness, and texture. Good performers will always know when and how much to bring an inner voice to the fore. And when an inner voice has its moment in the sun, magic can happen.
Here, on this website, I bring forth the inner voices of my own life as a poet, writer, singer, broadcaster, and voice talent to share with you. I hope you will feel free to make your voice heard, too, and drop me a line now and then. But please be sure to speak up, so we all can hear you above the din.