You know when you’re young and in love so you hop in an old car that has no business driving 1,000 miles to the California coast, but you’re young and in love so you do, toting an 8mm camera you don’t know how to use and California feels like interplanetary travel because you grew up in a small isolated city with an inferiority complex and no ocean, and the young and in love part of you becomes truly starry eyed by the waterfalls but then your ancient heart is disenchanted when you look out at the plight of the strawberry pickers just beyond Malibu and all of it—all of the poverty topped with champagne, fixing an eye on the hourglass from behind big sunglasses—becomes heavy with light and looks like the inside of your brain when you watch the strangely colored footage of your youth that surpasses California into the desert toward the Grand Canyon’s crack in the world, toward the midwest time machine Forevertron where Dr. Evermor sits beside his ex-wife who shares your first name eating cheese puffs as the summer splinters into shades of fall along the lake and it’s all rising and popping like bubbles in the sky, so you simply choose to hold on to the best thing you’ve ever had, this hand in your hand, and you say I’m not letting go because you’re my only home and eleven years later you never left home and you never will.
I work lots but share little, which any business school dropout knows is stupid marketing practice. So in breaking radio silence, here’s what I’ve been up to. First, a rough cut of a song I recorded last year with my buddy Spencer in his basement. It begins with us talking about beef roast and twice-baked potatoes.
Like everything we make together, it’s lo-fi and fun for us. Eight years ago we had a garage rock band called Natural and the Disasters. True to our name, we went through four drummers in one year. At one point, we had a drummer but no kit, so we bought a children’s set from a trailer park in Westminster for $20 that we christened The Mighty Tinies. Our final show was at Denver’s 10th UMS at the former Club 404.
One of the highlights of having a band that year was playing a battle of the bands at Hi-Dive for my kickball league. Anyone from the league in a band was recruited (which was, like, half of us). I had a 90’s cover group called the Um Bros with musicians Ross Harada from Land Lines, Ian Short from Hello Kavita, Adam Lancaster from Curious Yellow, and Eli Mishkin from Hot IQs.
Although I can read music and play a tiny bit, I’ve never considered myself a musician. Writing words has always been far more important to me. Speaking of, I’ll put the lyrics to the above song at the bottom of the page.
Aside from entertaining the ghosts of music’s past, I’ve been writing essays about the connection between fun and death. It’s less morbidly abstract than it sounds. Stay tuned.
In October, I gave an informal talk at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design for Creative Mornings. The theme was Honesty. I talked about how it influences my work as a poet. You can watch it HERE.
Besides the swell people and free donuts, the other cool part of that day was walking next door into the Rotunda Gallery to see the Picture Me Here exhibit. I volunteered last October for the organization, which helps immigrants and refugees build multimedia story-telling skills. It was an honor to work with Zahraa Otaifah, an immigrant from Iraq and mother of a child with autism. She’s a brilliant soul and it was a pleasure to see her work on display.
That about does it for now. I hope you enjoy my song “It’s Nothing but the Everything You Believe to be True” as much as I enjoy long song titles. “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand” is my favorite. Anyway:
Don’t you see, can’t you be?
The limit to the water where we all begin to breathe, oh
Don’t you see?
Oh listen to the wake
It’s the point of indecision where we all begin to quake
I found a way for me, way for me, just like I do
Am I somebody’s superstition or somebody else’s proof?
I found the mist of me, mist of me
It’s like I knew
I put your painting by the door and then back underneath the pew
So pray for me, pray for me
Just like they say
When there’s no logic to the living and the dead have gone their way
But wait for me, wait for me, and set the pace
I’ve been so tied up in the walking I almost forgot to wait
But wait, oh no, oh wait, oh no, just wait, I’ll show, the gate aglow
This might be all for me tonight
This might be the last moment that the light in me is left alight
In spite, the difference between curtains is perspective of the eye
They caught me gazing at the stars and then decried me as a spy
My spirit’s mired in wisdom but wisdom is mired in mind
And the mind gets so contorted in the curvature of spine
I find I listen when I’ve ended my internal diatribe
And the response to all my wailing is the dropping of a dime
I don’t mind the silence of the living nor the noise of the divine
I find the difference with ovation to just sitting on your spine
Is if simplicity is squalor or the best that you can find
But wait for me, wait for me
I know that if you give me just a minute than the infinite is known
It’s as simple and contorted as the nautilus exposed
The spiral of the cycle of the rhythm of the throes
Wait, oh no, oh wait, oh no, just wait, I’ll show, the gate aglow
This month I returned to the Eaux Claires music festival to recite some poems. The good people behind the curtain put a lot of energy into incorporating arts beyond music into the program. And it's awesome.
While last year was the over-the-top-this-is-your-life-Eleanor-Perry-Smith weekend, this festival was more, hey there festival attendees, let's have lemonade and bond over strange words I write on my couch. EXCIII offered me a quiet moment backstage with my boy Paul Simon, Wilco handshakes, and rapture in the woods with an amazing audience. EXCIV allowed me to reconnect with attendees from last year, have a poet duet with Wisconsin poet laureate Kim Blaeser, and relax enough to meet new buddies. Even cute baby buddies.
This year I wrote a poem titled Old Dominion with the people who attend the festival especially in mind. Aside from bleeding my heart out for people who care, other standouts were the stage in the round designed by the festival's humble hardworking Creative Director Michael Brown, along with a team of artisans and architects. It was a sculptural marvel.
Like everyone else, I didn't know the lineup until I arrived, and I was excited to see Pussy Riot on the bill. Nadya Tolokno is an incredible woman and inspiration. Here she is about to sucker punch 12,000 people.
Speaking of women who light the world, some of us read famous speeches to kick off Saturday's events. I chose "Solitude of Self," which was the speech women's suffragist and activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered before Congress in 1892. When I finished reading, someone in the crowd came up to ask the name of the speech once more, then noted how depressing it was that Stanton's words were apt for our current national status.
I have loved reciting at this festival. I don't know if I'll be back someday, but it has been an honor to perform for those who were there. It's not just a place where people get bombed and show off skin, although that comes with the territory, Eaux Claires has been like summer camp where we all leave with unexpected buddies, new songs to sing, and a sense that we'll never be the same.
I know the nation is mourning that another poetry month has come to a close. The ticker tape parades, pony rides, and candlelight vigils will be missed. But really, I would love to see more people embrace the introspection and awe of humanity that poetry provides.
Fortunately, my cousin's girlfriend is one such person and held a poetry segment for her 3rd and 4th grade students last week. She asked me to come recite for them and talk shop. My favorite moment arose when we wrote a poem as a class. Everybody was shouting out words for our poem about being worn out, and one girl hollered: DESPONDENT. Beat drop. I stopped writing on the dry erase board, turned around, and nodding in approval said, "Nice."
I can never turn down a chance to talk poetry with kiddos. Their honesty is refreshing. Their unapologetic idiosyncrasies are inspiring. Their brightness bewilders. I think I do pretty good hanging with them, but at the end of the day, I'm still just another pony whisperer waiting for a ride to the vigil.
On Saturday I attended the opening of Pink Progression at the Denver Public Library's Vida Ellison Gallery. Organizer and artist Anna Kaye invited me to contribute a poem to this three-part exhibition. The show commemorates the global Women's March on January 21, 2017. Here are some of my favorite pieces in the show, which is on display until June 29.
My poem titled Lesson, No Less is projected on a screen along with poems by other local writers. Our words are bound in a collection titled Words Resist and Persist, which is for sale. Proceeds from book sales go to nine local nonprofits that support and empower women.
I was grateful for the chance to have an intentional, quiet moment to contribute to this ongoing global dialogue. Regardless of one's politics, I hope we can continue crafting a world where all women are treated as allies and not assistants. Cofounders and not conquests.
Last June I recited at the Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin. What a ball. While there, I debuted my longest spoken poem to date titled Olly Olly Oxen Free. If you're interested in hearing it, I just got this recording of the poem from a recitation I did in Chicago last November. (Thanks again to everyone I met with Sofar, and especially Kelly Williams for inviting me back to our city of infamy for the event.)
Good news for sad times. London's New River Press has published its inaugural poetry compendium:
I'm honored they included the first poem from my unpublished collection Dunbar's Number. I've appreciated co-founder and poet Robert Montgomery's presentation style for years, and some of his writing is featured in the yearbook as well.
My poem is titled "I" as in the Roman numeral, not the pronoun. It comes from the group of 150 poems I wrote about the 150 personal relationships in my life, stemming from the work of anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. I passively urge you purchase a copy of the yearbook while they last, if you want. I also have some copies of my photographic poetry book Revelry & Rhyme left. They make great Christmas gifts as opposed to another Brookstone foot massager. Let me know on your order form if you'd like me to sign your copy. Or I could simply sign your foot massager. Either way.