Ooh, Chemicals, Bad! (Slim, eHarmony and a Rant)

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Slim and I are logging some early evening deck time chowing down on barbecued steaks from ‘What The Cat Dragged In’, our local artisan butcher shop, and sipping a balls forward red, having already polished off a growler of craft IPA – slightly over-hopped with a hint of camel’s breath.

It’s hot. Rivulets of sweat trickle down Slim’s face forming a damp half-moon at the neck of his white tee shirt which carries the message “IT’S NOT IMPORTANT”. I’m telling him about how I spread moth balls all around the base of the shed at the end of the garden in a vain attempt to deter the two skunks who have set up home underneath it.

(rivulets,

Romulus,

amulets)

“Napthalene” Slim announces “is the chemical name for moth balls. I was out on an eHarmony date last night and I mentioned to the lady I was having dinner with that I used to work in the chemical industry….”

Slim on eHarmony, this is news to me. I wonder what his profile is like, what hobbies has he listed? I know he doesn’t kayak or go for long walks on the beach at sunset, his main interests outside of poetry are Premier League soccer and playing bass in a Clash tribute band (not coming to a venue anywhere near anybody, soon). Plus, he hasn’t dated anyone in years and his wardrobe consists of faded jeans and white tee shirts that are too small for him and usually carry some nihilist, dystopian message.

“What did you list as your hobbies on your eHarmony profile?” I interrupt, to his annoyance.

“Cooking, now let me get on with my story. As I said I mentioned to the lady I was having dinner with that I used to work in the chemical industry and she grimaced and said:  ‘Ooh, chemicals, bad!’ So I told her that at least 50% of what she was wearing was synthetic material made from petroleum by products; that behind the walls of the restaurant that we were sitting in were miles of electrical wire covered in plastic insulating material made from petroleum byproducts; that the phone she keeps checking contains plastics, not to mention lithium, probably mined using child labour in Africa; that the toilet seats  that we plonk our over-privileged arses on are made from plastic; that all these materials are products of the chemical industry and are manufactured in some shit hole of a town far from our blissed out home; that we are not going back to an agrarian society, we are too soft and distracted, the work is too hard and we would be bored out of our fucking skulls; that we have to regulate industry, not get rid of it and how we can we possibly move forward if we don’t understand where we stand, or sit”.

“What was her response?” I asked.

“She said that she was going to the washroom to plonk her over privileged arse on a plastic toilet seat, and she never came back.”

The sun drops behind the ridge of the house

convection currents go crazy in the trees,

the moth balls smell like halitosis

on the warm neurotic breeze.

 

Alternate Take – Goodbye Reince Priebus (with apologies to Queen)

 

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Goodbye Reince Preibus

I’m sorry you had to go

now we are left with Bannon

and his auto fellatio

Scaramucci, Scaramucci

will you do the fandango.

I have been fascinated by the name “Reince Preibus” since I first heard it, the chainsaw screech of “Reince”, the Latinate portliness of “Preibus”.

Reince: There is something otherworldly, foreign about those slender vowels “ei” before the “nce”. The “ince” part is fairly common – wince, mince, convince- and  even the Germanic sounding “ein” is common enough -skein, stein – but “eince” is something else, a chainsaw screech but modified as if heard through ear muffs. There is also something medicinal about it – a salve to be applied sparingly (put some reince on that cut, son). 

Then “Priebus” takes the “ei” and reverses them (pronounced to rhyme with “Brie”). It has a Latinate portliness, like a Shakespearean character, or a writ to slap someone with- “Habeas Priebus”; or a complicated skateboard manoeuvre – he executed a perfect reverse Priebus.

Yes, the Trump administration is a treasure trove of assonance, dissonance and onomatopoeia. The man himself sounds like a heavy landing, a cross between “rump” and “triumph”. “Jared Kushner” is the sound of something nasty being squelched underfoot and Melania and Ivanka with their Eastern European aura put the “ass” back in “assonance” (sorry about that one).

 

Goodbye Reince Priebus(with apologies to Queen)

Goodbye Reince Preibus

no more  will I contemplate

the strange music of your name

those slender vowels reversing

no longer will I look for meanings, explanations

Reince? A salve to be applied

sparingly to a wound?

a rinse? a douche? a poultice?

and Priebus? A complicated procedure?

Last night, doctors performed

an emergency preibus

the patient is doing well.

Goodbye Reince Preibus

I’m sorry to see you go

now we are left with Steve Bannon

and his auto fellatio

Scaramucci, Scaramucci

will you do the fandango.

Sessions’ Transgressions

They would have pilloried Hillary

if she had a discussion with a Russian.

 

This poem was previously called “Out Like Flynn”. I have re-purposed it. I love that word “re-purpose”, it’s so twenty-first century. Jeff Sessions is getting awfully close to being re-purposed and, as I write, Sean Spicer is probably considering his own re-purposing options – CNN analyst? Best selling author of ” Telling Lies For a Living”?

 

3 Poems Referencing Members of the Clergy in a Simile or Metaphor

Distraction

in procession down Blenheim

a father and son

each bent over his phone

like a priest reading his office.

 

Bull Bison

cast out from the herd

he shuffles the prairie

like an old Christian Brother

like an unkempt monk.

 

Skunk Three

There are now 2 skunks living under the shed at the back of our garden. Yesterday, they came out to frolic around on the lawn in the late evening sun and later around 11:30, they strolled beneath our window filling our bedroom with that skunk smell. Skunk spray, by the way,  consists of seven major volatile components; they are mainly organic sulphurs (mercaptans), which are also responsible for the way that pulp mills smell. The spray is stored in scent glands on either side of the skunk’s anus, a skunk has  enough for 5 or 6 sprays and it takes 10 days to be restore the supply. So, they do not spray unless they have to.

Where was I? This poem started off a few posts back as a haiku (“Skunk”). I didn’t like the ending so I changed the last line (“Skunk Two”). Then I began thinking about form. Yes, writing to a form does corral a poem and focus language but every now and again it is good to open the gate and let the poem run free. So I have gone hog wild here, added 2 extra syllables and combined the last two lines of the 2 poems, here it is:

Skunk

struts across the lawn

with a cleric’s confidence

tail cocked, sphincter primed, cocksure.

 

What The Folk! – the 40th Annual Vancouver Folk Festival

 

Great weekend at the Vancouver Folk Festival, highlights for me were Rhiannon Giddens, Bahamas and The Revivalists plus three young British folk singers (more about that later).

I was particularly interested this time around in hearing the response of the folk music world to the current political climate in the USA, Britain, to climate change, to the refugee crisis. This was all touched upon in a workshop I attended on the Friday afternoon which was led by Billy Bragg. The theme was “Working Class Heroes”; Rhiannon Giddens and Grace Petrie were part of the group of five singers on stage. I saw both of them give better performances later in the festival, here they seem constrained by the downbeat atmosphere. The song introductions, although heartfelt and eloquent, went on way too long;  Pete Seeger’s name was dropped more times than an egg at a drunken egg and spoon race. Later in the evening, Billy Bragg sang “There’s Power in the Union” and a song about climate change which was essentially a rewrite of “The Times they are a Changin’”. On another night, Shawn Colvin sang a beautiful version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”. It all felt a bit nostalgic, the established singers seemed to be creatively chewing on a bone when it came to addressing today’s issues, to be looking back to former struggles for inspiration.

However, in the afternoon of day 2, I attended a workshop called “Keep Calm and Carry On” (which was a poster produced by the British government in 1939), and I found what I was looking for – folk music as a living organism. The performers – Jake Morley, Will Varley and Grace Petrie, all English – were anything but calm, “stay angry and carry on” would have been a better description. Of course it’s not enough to be angry, an artist has to make his/her anger interesting and that they did. They were all in their own way, original, talented song writers – witty, profane, poetic, self-deprecating (they are English after all). Grace Petrie is more punk in her approach, has a gift for word play and knows how to write a chorus; Will Varley manages to be Dylanesque, but be his own man at the same time – a poet with a bullhorn voice; Jake Morley writes more complex songs, has a gift for melody and is a percussive, propulsive guitar player who reminds me a little bit of Cat Stevens with his off kilter rhythm. But most of all, they were very funny and had none of that smug, preaching to the choir earnestness that sometimes plagues folk music. Check out Grace Petrie below:

 

 

And here’s a reprise of a poem, I post every year at this time.

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival

One hour into the folk festival

and a mellow, minor key, melancholy

is seeping into Slim’s bones,

he feels it like an arthritic ache

and he wishes that someone

would duck walk across the stage

shooting staccato bursts of distorted guitar

at the chill, Tilley clad audience

who, unlike Slim, have a default mode

other than anger.

 

 

 

The Universe Can’t be Explained

 

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I re-discovered this post just the other day. It was written back in those heady days when Slim and I thought that slimverse in all its 12 syllable glory would sweep the internet and replace the haiku as the verse form of choice. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened and I have to admit that even this blog has succumbed to the luxury of those extra 5 syllables. I’m including the interview with Slim from the original post to re-capture the innocence and optimism of that time.

The Universe Can’t Be Explained 

1

The engine

does not know

where the car

is going.

2

like a frog

down a well

we only

know the walls

 

 

An Interview with Slim

So Slim, what inspired you to write this poem?

Well, I was watching the Stephen Hawkins bio, “The Theory of Everything”, and it got me thinking about the Universe. By the way, I’m also thinking about writing a book called “Managing Expectations – The Theory of a Couple of Things”.

Very droll.

Indeed.

The poem is in this new form which you are working with, are you excited about this?

Yes.

You don’t seem excited.

I have a condition, I’m auto-impassive. It used to be called ”acute solemnity”. I’m incapable of showing emotion, and in my case, the condition is limited to positive emotions. I can display anger and irritation as you are well aware.

Is it hereditary?

Yes, on my mother’s side. Half of my family has it, that’s why in family photos one half of the family is smiling and the other is not.

Fascinating. Now tell me more about the poem.

Well it’s quite simple, four lines of 3 syllables each. I look on these poems as poems for the 21st century, the smart phone era, the era of distraction. Something you could read on the bus, on the subway, something that can be enjoyed without too much effort. Like a small square of chocolate with your morning coffee.

Cadbury’s Milk or Hershey’s?

Cadbury’s or maybe one of those artisan bars, you know, 70% cocoa, or a peak from the Toblerone mountain range.

When did you first get the idea for this form?

I was out drinking with a group of fellow poets and one thing led to another and I got home at 4 AM and sat down and wrote “Magic” which was blogged a week or so back. It’s a clumsy attempt, I think we should trash it.

What were you discussing until 4 in the morning?

Enjambment.

“Magic” has an uncharacteristic cod-mystical feel to it, were there other substances being abused?

I can’t remember.

What do you call your group of poets.

The Poet’s Circle.

Really, isn’t that a bit literal, a bit prosaic for a bunch of poets. It’s like saying “a party of plumbers”, “a coterie of carpenters” and that at least would be alliterative. Very disappointing.

Fuck off.

What?

Fuck off!

Okay.

Photo: Laptopia.

Skunk Two

struts across the lawn

with a cleric’s confidence

tail cocked and cocksure.

 

This is an alternative version of the previous post (I don’t know how people write novels, seventeen syllables gives me enough problems). I think this version is more musical because of the alliteration at the end, and because “sphincter” is not a very musical word. Comments, opinions are welcome.

(Get) Over the Moon

 

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A second post involving the moon, in the space of a few days. We are experiencing unusually dry sunny weather up here and the moon is hanging around most evenings, so I’m taking the opportunity to re-purpose an older poem and to use the word “re-purpose” which I’m hearing a lot lately; yes, yet another verbed noun, meaning I guess: “to assign a different purpose to an existing object, thing”. The odd thing is I have never heard anyone use  the verb “to purpose”, which would mean “to assign a purpose to an object, thing”, perhaps because every thing  has an already assigned purpose. Now there’s a rabbit hole…

Bathos

The moon hung

like a cheddar searchlight

in the glycol sky

and we hung

out on the deck.

Drive

 

 

Drive

On a strange day

in a life that’s becoming stranger

Myron is driving north of Kona

on a road bisecting the black lava landscape

when Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

comes on the radio,

and in no time at all

he’s picturing himself

on a boat on a river

and marveling for the first time

at that rhyme between

marmalade skies and kaleidoscope eyes

not the skies and eyes

but the lade and leid

and just when his head

is filling with technicolor

the black cloud that’s sitting

on the mountains to the right

moves across the sun

that’s shining

on the blue ocean to the left,

and the black asphalt road

and the jumbled chunks

of frozen black lava

that cover the landscape

suck the remaining light

from the air

leaving everywhere

a dull monochrome.

 

This poem was published in The Galway Review a little while back but I thought it was worth bringing out again because of the recent anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. The photos above are of the Beatles’ single featuring  Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. My family got it’s first record player in the early sixties just when the Beatles and the rest of the British groups that formed the British Invasion were emerging. The first single we bought was “Needles and Pins” by The Searchers, a remake of a Jackie De Shannon song. My mom, older sister, older brother and myself would take turns every week to buy a record to build our collection. When I was back in Dublin a few years back for my dad’s funeral, I picked out the record shown above and a few others from our collection.  The sleeve has a picture on the front and on the back which was not typical at that time. Both songs were originally intended for the Sgt. Pepper album but were released early because they needed a single.

I can still remember hearing Strawberry Fields for the first time on the radio. The Beatles were busy spawning genres at the time but this was the strangest piece of music I had ever heard. It was and still is undefinable. Penny Lane wasn’t bad either.

 

Of Fish and War (Re-Mix)

 

Nha Trang

At the National Oceanographic Institute,

among tanks cramped

with circling neurotic fish

(Hit the glass. Stop. Turn around)

there is a multi-coloured specimen

whose toxin,

the sign says,

renders its victims

“unconspicuous or even dead”.

Further north

in the Hanoi War museum

conspicuous beneath glass

lie the dog tags

of dead American soldiers –

to a man

young, buzzcut and hopeful.

 

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Photo  taken outside The Hanoi War Museum