Three Words; Three Poems

Thunder and the Lightning Line

These three poems began as text, from a daily one-word prompt over at Mastodon, and then became something slightly different as media when I moved the poems over to different platforms (Pablo, Canva, Lumen5) to make something more visual as a means to add texture and layer to the small poems.

The poem above was inspired by the word “thunder” and the ones below by “wish” and then by “seize.” If you are on Mastodon, you can follow the daily word, and assorted poems, and be inspired to write or create, too.

Peace (along the edges),
Kevin

CLMOOC Silent Sunday

SilentSunday

Ok — so not completely silent this Sunday: this is a gift from a student, one with whom I have struggled to keep engaged in learning all year. Sometimes, a student surprises you, and so they did, with this beautiful work of art on large canvas.

Peace (and imagination),
Kevin

Book Review: Real Life Rock

Greil Marcus is a legend in rock music criticism, a longtime voice on the scene that often cuts through the surface of music to go deeper by observing the cultural moments and the lens of musical history. He can be witty, supportive and insightful, and he can just as quickly be harsh, snarky and critical. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s clear on what he thinks about a particular artist, song or cultural moment.

In his book Real Life Rock, Marcus gathered together decades of columns in various publications (starting with The Village Voice and ending in The Believer) of a column by the same name of the book, where Marcus uses the Top Ten list concept by examining music, culture, art, books, television, politics and whatever else caught his attention at the moment. (Note: he also has a new book out, with more recent columns)

For each of the ten topics in any given column, he mostly opines in only a few sentences, although there are other times when he takes liberty with the space offered, writing a short editorial beneath any given topic. You can tell he has found something passionate, and has sunk his hooks into an issue. His breadth of knowledge is pretty impressive.

Common artists emerge across time for his opinion (often skeptical but sometimes celebratory): Bob Dylan, cover albums, the Mekons, Lucinda Williams, Bonny Prince Billy, Sleater-Kinney, Allison Krause, and more.

I flipped to a page in the book, and here are the topics at a glance, which give a sense of the wide scope of Marcus interests:

  • Dido’s Thank You song (and what Eminem did with it)
  • Live concert of Rock Your Baby (Portland) by Dick Slessig Combo
  • Billy Bragg and Wilco (Woody Guthrie covers in Mermaid Avenue Vol.2)
  • Shalini (singer from North Carolina)
  • Thread Waxing Space (art display in NYC) – life casts of musicians

Reading his pieces across time (1986 through 2014) is pretty fascinating, and even if I skipped through many of his pieces as I sort of did a power reading tour of musical criticism, Marcus’ voice is always loud and clear, confident and critical. I didn’t always agree with him but I always kept on reading him. The rewards in terms of tiny nuggets of insights were always worth the time.

Peace (in books about music),
Kevin

What If I’m Not Writing

Working By Emergency Light
Working By Emergency Light flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

For quite a long time — many years, in fact — I wrote on this blog every single day – rain or shine. For some of those years, I was even known to post twice a day.  I know. I know. What was I thinking? I was thinking that writing here would oil the gears of my imagination, and open up other writing ideas.

It did.

This blog (which is also my own personal digital archive of ideas and thinking) became a place to plant and nurture seeds, to try out new ideas, to think through whatever it was I doing. Comics. Poems. Songs. Stories. Essays. Whether the audience was myself or others who were stopping by or reading it on RSS, my blog has long acted an extension of my writing identity, a place to land each morning, getting centered and situated, before the rest of the day began.

But the past few months have altered my relationship with my writing here. I’m trying to sort out why.

Maybe it was just that I have been worn out by teaching this year, as so many colleagues have expressed as well. I surely am exhausted and frustrated, and summer break can’t come fast enough (a little more than two weeks). Most days at school have become long, difficult days with a growing range of student behavior and mental health issues taking up so much of my time and energy, trends that no doubt can be traced to the Pandemic and the disruptive years behind us all. Knowing that reality and the source of it all doesn’t make any day ahead any easier to navigate. Sleep is also an issue, as in not getting nearly enough.

At some point — and I think it was in March and April, when I was joining some activities around poetry and also finishing up the daily Slice of Life challenge — I just took a break from the blog’s daily writing one day, and that break kept on going and going and going.

Now it feels a bit as if the break has broken my blogging.

I have still been writing small form poetry every morning, and I’ve been posting the odd book review (mostly written earlier, and then pulled from my draft bin) and sharing silent photos for Sundays here and other odds and ends, but I have not been doing deep dive writing about the topics that I have long centered this blog around — teaching, writing, music, art, collaborations, etc.

Strangely enough — and somewhat alarming to me, the writer — I hadn’t even noticed the absence of my reflective writing voice, that voice I’ve developed here at my blog over years, until … well … I did. I suddenly noticed what was not there anymore. I’d look at this space and it felt like some distant echo of the writer I was before, but I couldn’t quite hear it anymore. When I am not writing regularly, I find myself on a day-to-day survival mode, as opposed to being able to step back and see the larger landscape.

I’m now attuned to the absence of that voice and I miss that part of me.

So, now what? I am not ready to be writing here every day, all over again, and maybe that era of me as a daily blogger is long past. I’m actually OK with that, if I can still find a strategy for nurturing my writing self.  I need to find a connection back, to spark the creative spirit that nurtures me as a teacher and a writer and a creative person. I know I have teaching colleagues and I have writing friends, and others in my collaborative circles, that I can connect with, and get support from. Perhaps summer break will be what I need.

I’m mulling on where to go from here, and how to find myself back to the writer I want to be.

Peace (and self-care),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Flooded (Requiem for Johnstown)

Rosemary's Reading Circle

Ann E. Burg’s Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown, a novel in verse, is a powerful set of interlocking character stories, informed by historical record, that lays bare the tragedy of the dam that burst in the working-class town outside of Pittsburgh, and all that died as a result.

Even worse, the story reminds us that the powerful and wealthy (ie, Andrew Carnegie, etc.), who bought the abandoned dammed-up lake for summer recreation and then failed to invest enough in its upkeep and maintenance, are clearly to blame for the 1889 disaster, and were never really held accountable. They blamed nature, not themselves.

Flooded is told in poetic verse, through the voices of children of the town as they prepare for Decoration Day, honoring veterans of the Civil War. Burg stitches together their stories and voices through some researched historical records, and with the freedom of a fiction writer. The result is a moving quilt of life, from the eyes and lives of young people, brought into the chaos of the flood, and the destruction of the town, and the loss of many, many lives, on that day when the dam breached and the water ran downhill.

The river, too, has a voice here, as it weaves its own story in between narrative sections, with narrow text formatting to visually show the winding path of its waters, and warning us of how it might never be tamed, and is always wild.

The last section of the book, where Burg uses anonymous letters and numbers as identification, is both insightful and, at times, both despairing and hopeful, the wishes of the dead for the survivors to carry on, to press ahead, to make something good in the world, to remember the stories. She even uses faded font texts to indicate those whose lives were taken, their ghost voices rises from the pages like distant music, and those who survived, devastated by loss but intent on moving forward.

As I read Flooded, I was reminded of the great 1874 Mill River Flood in my area of Western Massachusetts, in which a dam burst, towns were destroyed, lives lost or forever altered, and the wealthy — who ignored the upkeep of the dam, were never held accountable. Sound familiar? That river is one I walk by all the time, and the memorials erected and reminders we have (including a map of the flood on a wall of our house) is never far away from our thoughts. And I have Burg’s structure in my mind now, too, and how stories can be told.

Peace (comes after a time),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Making Music Again

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective  …  You write, too.)

My band, minus a permanent lead singer (we’re in the process of auditioning some new folks), played out live for the first time the other day at a neighborhood Block Party, and while the weather was hot and the audience rather sparse, we had a blast on the lawn, and remembered again — after a long stretch of only playing for ourselves — the joy of making music for others.

That’s me on saxophone. We invited a friend to sing lead on this James Brown song.

Peace (play it),
Kevin