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.
“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.
The End of Cable News (a double Slim)
all the news
that can break
are blank, the
Wolf, Jake, Don.
Smoke on the Water.
Goodbye Reince Preibus
I’m sorry you had to go
now we are left with Bannon
and his auto fellatio
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).
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.
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
does not know
where the car
like a frog
down a well
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”.
The poem is in this new form which you are working with, are you excited about this?
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?
“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.
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…
The moon hung
like a cheddar searchlight
in the glycol sky
and we hung
out on the deck.
hard men, old hatred,
prod, papist, patriot games
I thought you were done.
haiku prompted by
the pratfall that is Brexit
and the re-entry
to my consciousness
of the DUP, Sinn Fein
and Gerry Adams.
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
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
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.
haiku tortured night
surplus syllable flop sweat
That’s it! Count me out.
down in the basement
vacuuming shards of sunshine
slanting ‘cross the floor.
This a re-working of a recent haiku. Not much time to write lately (my daughter got married last weekend!), so 17 syllables are as much as I can squeeze in.
At the National Oceanographic Institute,
among tanks cramped
with circling neurotic fish
(Hit the glass. Stop. Turn around)
there is a multi-coloured specimen
the sign says,
renders its victims
“unconspicuous or even dead”.
in the Hanoi War museum
conspicuous beneath glass
lie the dog tags
of dead American soldiers –
to a man
young, buzzcut and hopeful.
Photo taken outside The Hanoi War Museum
The girl, two tables down
angles her right shoulder forward
every time she makes a point.
the expensive suits and haircuts
play with their phones
like fishermen on the dock in Mykonos
playing with their worry beads.
After four beers,
they relax into loud brodacious banter.
The glass towers flare as the sun goes down.
Happy Hour Friday
on The Tap and Barrel patio
and Monday morning
seems a lifetime away.
Early Sunday morning, Slim and I head down to “The Post-Coital Beetle” to watch Manchester United play Spurs; early because of the 8 hour time difference and because neither of us subscribe to the sports channel showing the game so we can’t PVR it, plus The Beetle is open and we get to watch the game and shout abuse and/or encouragement at the screen in the company of like-minded people. We both order the all day breakfast; it’s called that because it’s available all day, not because it takes all day to eat it. I ask for the eggs over easy, Slim, in an outbreak of irony, orders sunny side up.
It’s nearing the end of the season and the United manager, Jose Mourinho, the surly one, is showing signs of cracking. In a game during the week, he tried to hold onto a one goal lead by switching a to 4 defensive central midfielders and nearly lost the game to a very average Spanish team. Today, he starts with 3 central defenders, and 2 full backs; one of the central defenders is playing in the full back position and one of the full backs is playing in midfield. Ten minutes in and United’s French striker, Anthony Martial, is sulking around in a state of Gallic pique, because there’s no one to pass the fucking ball to him, which is what I shout at the screen:
“There’s no one to pass the fucking ball to him!”
Plus, there’s something seriously wrong with Wayne Rooney’s hair, he seems to be going bald again, despite his much publicised hair implants.
Predictably, United lose. I turn to Slim for a comment, my nose streaming and my eyes watering because I put too much hot sauce on the hash browns, and he goes all tri-syllabic on me. “Doldrums”, he intones:
end of the
look like a
to put on
And he’s not finished, “I have a bone to pick with you”, he growls. He is wearing a white T shirt stretched over the helmet of his pot belly. The T shirt says: “The end is nigh, and not a moment too soon”. Apparently he’s pissed off because I removed one of his poems from this blog. The poem was called “Moab- an Obituary” and it was his response to the dropping of very large bomb (The Mother Of All Bombs) on Syria by the US.
MOAB – An Obituary
A sad day,
Of All Bombs
is gone, she
missed by the
bombs she has
I explained to him that I had seen Hasan Minhaj on The Daily Show doing a piece on how serious journalists like Jake Tapper of CNN had started making snarky comments about Donald Trump. His point was that this is a bad thing because we need serious journalists to be serious and snark undermines that seriousness. I thought the last verse of the poem was too snarky.
“Well’, Slim says, “here’s some snark for you, go fuck yourself!”
I point out that this is technically not snark, but he has already stormed out of the pub, leaving behind a sausage which I finish. High point of the morning, really.
out here where real estate agents
explore the frontiers of sleaze
I default to fish tacos, pale ale, unease
and the air is stained with memory
and the air is strained with memory
out here where real estate agents
explore the frontiers of sleaze
and I can’t be adrift
because that would suggest
that I’m floating
it doesn’t rhyme every time
out here where real estate agents
explore the frontiers of sleaze.
Our resident poet, Slim Volume, and I sit down once a week for a classical music appreciation session. As our guide, we are using a book called “The Vintage Guide to Classical Music”, by Jan Swafford. This is an excellent reference book. It contains explanations of various musical terms, essays on the significant classical composers and a “best of” list for each composer. This led me to what Jan Swafford describes as possibly the greatest of the nine Beethoven symphonies, Symphony No.3 .
The symphony was originally dedicated to Napolean Bonaparte but Beethoven changed the name to “Sinfonia Eroica” or “Heroic Symphony” when he became disillusioned with his hero.
The first movement clocks in at seventeen minutes and is described by Swafford as an “indefatigable outpouring of dramatic intensity”. At the end of the movement, I paused the recording. Slim was staring straight ahead in what appeared to be a catatonic state.
“So, Slim”, I said, “what did you think of the first movement?”
He blinked once like a dishevelled owl and replied: “It sounds to me like there’s this man wearing big boots and he’s stamping around a large dimly lit house. In the house are rooms where violinists and flautists are playing. The man with the big boots occasionally opens the door to one of these rooms, but quickly gets bored listening to the violinists and flautists. He signals this by slamming the door repeatedly.”
We obviously have some distance to travel.
Umbrage in Umbria
In which Diane Lane
plays an American woman
recovering from the pain
of a recent divorce.
Sandra Oh will feature
As her quirky sidekick,
Tonto to Diane’s Lone Ranger.
Smoldering local love interest –
Xavier Bardem or Antonio Banderas –
they’re not Italian
but if you want “smoldering”
you’ve got to call in the Spanish.
We’ll need a Brit,
Maggie Smith, perhaps,
as a sage but ageing dowager.
Max Von Sydow is still alive
(I’ve just googled him)
he could be the priest
but that might be too much Swedish gloom
we need wry and twinkling.
Morgan Freeman, I’m thinking
an explanation will be needed
as to how he got there.
Richard Gere will appear
near the end,
as the ex-husband
rich and massively contrite
now that his bimbo has fled –
the philandering bastard.
And as for the umbrage
taken by whom
because of what
you’ll just have to wait for the movie.
The Lad Poetry Project Revival Part 1
The April meeting of the Poets’ Circle was a dry affair in more ways than one. The Serious Poet, at the invitation of The Accomplished Poet, read his 40 verse poem about the Canadian Constitution and afterwards spoke for an hour about the making of the poem and his creative process. The Serious Poet wore, as always, a Mountain Equipment Co-Op black fleece vest, a pale blue button down shirt, a pair of Khaki pants with more pockets than any normal human being could use, and a pair of Merrill hiking shoes. His creative process? He apparently decided at the outset on a six line verse with an ABABCC rhyming scheme and added the restriction that he would only use rhymes that had never been used before in an English language poem; a daunting task, as you can imagine. However, being a professor of literature at a local university, he had his resources and with the help of a few grants, he had a group of his students devise a computer program that would check all his rhymes for originality. This involved compiling a data bank of all the rhymes in English Literature, a process that took ten years and an ever changing band of students. In the end meaning and clarity had to take a back seat and the resulting poem turned out to be a real head scratcher, a masterpiece of obfuscation delivered in a dry monotone. To make matters worse, there was no alcohol at the event; April, the cruellest month, being a dry month for some of the poets in the circle who try to prove once a year that they are not cravenly dependent on alcohol for enjoyment and invariably prove the opposite.
Slim and I got out of there as fast as we could and headed for The Post-Coital Beetle…..to be continued.
Cherry Blossoms Bloom
cherry blossoms bloom
well-dressed ladies from Beijing
pose with hand on hip
cherry blossoms bloom
the air is sticky with greed
houses, for sale, sold.
cherry blossoms bloom
the wrecking ball’s lazy swing
petals, debris, spring.
These 3 poems appeared separately in Spring of last year, I thought they worth assembling together. They are probably the only poems ever written about cherry blossoms and the Vancouver Real Estate Market.
Last week there was a Simon Pegg retrospective at our local cinema and Slim invited me back to his one bedroom apartment after we watched an early showing of “Shawn of the Dead”. Slim had prepared dinner and by that I mean he had peeled back the tin foil edge of a take-out carton of butter chicken, removed the cardboard lid, and handed me a plastic fork and a can of Old Style lager. He then lapsed into one of his silences.
I found myself noticing the beads of condensation on the clear plastic lid of the steamed rice container. The rice was long past fluffy. The evening stretched before me like a Sunday in Ottawa. My only recourse was to ask Slim an irritating question.
“So, Slim”, I said, “who do you think is the better poet, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen?”
Slim’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Bob Dylan’s not a poet”, he snapped,“ he’s a poetic songwriter”.
“And Leonard Cohen is…..?”
“Leonard Cohen is a poet who writes songs”.
“Ok then, what’s your favorite Bob Dylan line, verse, whatever”
“I can only think of the bad ones”
“So what’s the worst Bob Dylan line ever?”
Slim blinked once like he was accessing a folder in his brain with an internal mouse.
“John Wesley Harding, ‘As I walked out One Morning’, third verse:
‘Depart from me this moment
I told her with my voice’.
It’s like saying ‘there’s going to be a jailbreak somewhere in this town”
“But that’s “Thin Lizzy”.
Slim looked like he had taken a sip of battery acid.
“My point is they are expressing the obvious just for the sake of a rhyme. It’s obvious that the jailbreak will be at the f….ing jail and how else will he tell her except with his voice, they’re in a field, for f… sake!”
“Oh”, I said, reaching for a poppadum.
After Slim’s brief outburst, he lapsed into silence again and did his impression of a lizard sitting on a rock. The not unpleasant smell from the Indian take-out mercifully masked the usual faint odour of sour sweat emanating from Slim’s bedroom. His bedroom door was closed, a yellow light leaked through the gap between bottom of the door and the threadbare carpet. The room pulsed in a vaguely sinister way.
I began to panic; he could pull out his blueprints of the Star Ship Enterprise at any minute. I was about to ask him why so much depends on a red wheelbarrow, but thought better of it. I reached for my phone.
“Slim”, I said, “I was looking at Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 albums of all time, the other day, do you want to see it?”
“Not really”, he replied.
“Ok”, I tried, “what do you think is the most over-rated album of all time?”
“All right”, he sighed, ”show me the top 10 albums.”
I passed him my phone and he studied the list for a few minutes, then pounced.
“Number 7, ‘Exile on Main Street’, by the Stones”
“Because, it’s awful. It’s recycled 12 bar, refried boogie, Jagger sounds like a cat being neutered. It’s not even the seventh best Stones’ album. Creedence and The Band did this kind of thing a few years before and a lot better. This is the sound of the Stones throwing in their creative hand and saying, ‘enough, we’re tired’. It’s the artistic equivalent of taking a package holiday to Majorca. Look, it’s listed higher than ‘The White Album’ and ‘Kinda Blue’. Absolute bollocks!”
“It’s ‘Kind of Blue’ not ‘Kinda Blue’
Slim looked at me like he was wondering why he bothered to speak to the rest of the human race at all.
“Well”, I said,”why do you think Rolling Stone rates it so high?”
“Because, it’s a Keef album and, to rock critics, Keef embodies the rock and roll spirit, the dead romantic hero, except he’s not dead. He’s the guy who would never have hung out with them at school. Plus, there’s this legend of the Stones hunkered down in a house in France recording the album, escaping from the tax man where in fact, Mick, Charlie and Bill never stayed at the house probably because they didn’t want to be around Keef’s junkie friends. Anyway, Mick didn’t think much of the album at all”.
“Look it up”.
So I did.
This is Mick Jagger talking about ‘Exile’ in “According to The Rolling Stones” (Chronicle Books, San Francisco):
“Exile on Main Street is not one of my favourite albums”.
“…when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. I’d love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies.”
“Exile is really a mixture of bits and pieces left over from the previous album recorded at Olympic Studios…..These were mixed up with a few slightly more grungy things done in the South of France. It’s seen as one album all recorded there and it really wasn’t.”
“So there’s a good four songs off it, but when you play the other nineteen, you can’t, or they don’t work, or nobody likes them, and you think, ’Ok, we’ll play another one instead’. We have rehearsed a lot of the tunes off Exile, but there’s not much that’s playable.”
Photo of detail of a Botero painting in Museo de Botero, Bogota, Colombia