Saturday, August 25, 2012
I may import all the posts from this blog over to that one, or more likely, I may not. I'm going to leave this blog here at least for now, but go over there if you want to find me. (And there is more "there" there - videos! poem links! et cetera!)
I'll be moving the links from the blogroll here over to the links page there - and hopefully starting to catch up on reading a bunch of great blogs I haven't paid enough attention to lately, as well.
See you there?
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
But since it got late and I'm tired, this is just a quickie bit of shameless self-promotion, although it's a bit of others-promotion as well! There's a gorgeous new anthology in town - And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana, published by the Indiana Historical Society Press, edited by Jenny Kander and C.E. Greer. In the works for several years, this big (nearly 400 pages) volume includes Hoosier poets past and present, everyone from James Whitcomb Riley to Ruth Stone to Etheridge Knight to, well, yours truly. There is even a cool geographical index in the back, with a map of Indiana so you can find the places mentioned in the poems and the birthplaces of those poets who were actually born in the state.
The physical book itself (yes, this matters) is a hardcover - solid, hefty, with paper that feels good to the hand, well-chosen typography, and enough white space on the page to make the poems a pleasure to read. Bet you anything you will find some old friends here, perhaps some poets you didn't realize had an Indiana connection, as well as terrific new poets you hadn't encountered before. The poems aren't all "about" Indiana though many of them do evoke a strong sense of place; the foreword by Roger Mitchell puts this balance of inner and outer landscape in perspective as well as outlining a bit of Hoosier poetry history. It's an anthology I am very proud to be a small part of, and one I'll be digging into for quite a while.
And people, this puppy is a bargain - the list price is only $24.95. You can order it via the Indiana Historical Society's gift shop, or via the usual Barnazon & Amanoble megastores.
(Anyone out there working on a syllabus for a "poetry of place" type class or anything about Midwestern literature? This would be a fantastic title to include!)
Saturday, September 10, 2011
I've had a couple of readings lately - a featured spot in the Brick Street Poetry Series up in Zionsville, IN (really fun), and a spot on the Spoken Word Stage at the 4th Street Festival of Arts & Crafts last weekend (fun, but it was 102 degrees and the "stage" was in the middle of the street in full sun, which meant only the truly dedicated stayed to listen). I'll write a post soon about the new anthology that's just come out, And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana (it's really, really lovely). That's about all the poetry news 'round here though.
I've about had it with the media blathering on about the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01. There's little new to be said, I suspect, though if it can be cathartic or healing for some people, then I'm glad for them. Instead of adding to the 9/11 blather, I'm going to post my poem about 9/10, and that desire we all have when something terrible happens to go back to the moment before and hold on for dear life. The sestina seemed like an appropriate form for this one, since you keep going back to the same end words and using them over and over again, holding on to them. (Sorry 'bout the small font. I'm trying to keep the lines from breaking all over the place. If you have trouble reading it, you can enlarge the text in most browsers by hitting control-+ on Windows machines; I'm sure there is a Mac equivalent...)
It was the day before.
I rode six miles out to sea to look for whales.
As we drifted nearly out of sight of land
we spied a small whale in the distance
alongside a larger whale, its mother, diving, lifting flukes.
As we approached the calf began to breach.
The morning sun struck the back of the calf, shining, as it continued to breach.
The boat drew closer. I’d never been so close before.
So often, as the boat pulled near, a whale would dive with one last thrust of flukes
but the morning of September 10 was a good one for watching whales.
The seas were calm, Provincetown’s monument familiar in the distance –
a reassuring glimpse of home, of land.
That small whale buoyed me as I flew home that night, my plane the last to land.
I could still feel waves rocking me, a breach
in the solid wall of my landlocked life. Traveling such a distance
alone – something I hadn’t dared before –
felt as brave as those whales,
as graceful as the lifting of flukes.
I’d bought a silver necklace shaped like flukes.
I clutched it like an amulet all the next day as news broke about “war in our own land.”
Provincetown seemed a lifetime ago, the sea, the joy, the whales.
Like everyone I stood stunned, complacency utterly breached.
What to say? How to respond? All the words I’d used before
fell away silent into the distance.
All I wanted was to return to that distance,
sun glistening on morning seas, the curve of flukes.
I held on so hard to before.
As events unfolded I felt lost in my own land,
each day’s news trumpeting some new security breach.
But somewhere out to sea there are still whales.
Part of me stayed out there with those whales,
the calf leaping into air, others in the distance,
the way he hung there for a moment mid-breach,
pure bone and muscle, fin and fluke.
I want it not to matter, what happens on distant land.
Somewhere it is always the day before.
What did I know, before I saw whales?
I was a land mammal dreaming of the distance.
Now I clutch the grace of flukes, the animal exuberance of the breach.
published in Breach (Finishing Line Press, 2008)
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
I wrote an elegy for Danny Federici when he died a few years ago (it's gotten some kind comments from editors but hasn't been published yet - maybe I'll post it here sometime). For those who may be unfamiliar, "Phantom Dan" played organ and accordion in the E Street Band, and he died of melanoma in 2008. I was unexpectedly shaken by his passing - in a very literal sense, as it turns out, because my part of Indiana experienced a rare earthquake in the predawn hours of the morning after Danny's death. (Yeah, that's in the poem.) More importantly, I was unexpectedly and deeply moved by the graceful way in which Bruce and the band dealt with his loss. They were mid-tour, and the first show following Danny's funeral has taken on legendary status in the Springsteen fan community - I wasn't there (though I will admit to having investigated plane fares before realizing it was completely impossible for me to go) but I've heard recordings of it, and it was both ferocious and tender, both raging and celebratory. Springsteen's eulogy was tremendously moving, as well. And Bruce has always written about how to cope with aging and death ("you're scared and you're thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore" - he wrote that when he was what, twenty-three or something?) but some of his most recent work, like "Kingdom of Days" and his song for Danny, "The Last Carnival," tackles it with a grace and wisdom that moves me so deeply.
I started thinking about the whole thing, and about what it meant to work with somebody in a creative situation (like in a band) for so many years - all one's adult life, really - to share all those experiences, from fighting and grubbing to work in smelly little clubs to touring worldwide, performing music that ultimately stirred millions of souls - and then to suffer that kind of loss. I started thinking about the legendary "brotherhood" of the E Street Band. It could all be a big act, you know. We fans love to believe in it; it's a fable, a wonderful story, and it means a lot to us. But they are performers, these guys. It's a show. And we know the image that's presented onstage (and in the media) is always, always, always at least partially a fictitious construction. (This goes for everyone with a public image to maintain. You don't think rockstars act like they do on stage 24/7, do you? Some of them try to, but it's a pretty safe bet that anyone who has friends that still speak to them after some years has given up and accepted that they can be a rockstar on stage but they had damn well better be a human being at home. And you know Patti Scialfa would kick Bruce's butt if he came home and announced "It's Boss time!")
Now, to be clear: I don't know anyone in the E Street Band personally. I've met Max Weinberg once, briefly, and he was very nice - but that's it. If it's all an act and they really can't stand each other offstage, or if they are jerks, I wouldn't know about it. I truly believe that it's not an act - I know enough people who know them at least somewhat, and have read & heard enough things about them over the years, to believe that the whole "brotherhood" thing is based on a deep truth. I've seen the way they look at one another onstage and I do not think any of them (Steven Van Zandt's stint on "The Sopranos" notwithstanding) is a good enough actor to fake what I see there. What's more, if Bruce Springsteen kicks puppies in his spare time, I neither need nor want to know about it. Guy writes songs like he does and gives shows like he does, he can do what he wants when I'm not looking. Even if the sentiment in songs like "Land of Hope and Dreams" were fake for him, it's very real for me. And the image of him - and of the band - that I have in my heart makes my world a better place to live in. So, consider that your official disclaimer there.
But I started thinking - what if you had a couple of bandmates who'd been together that long, and who had the whole Bruce-and-Stevie (or Clarence, but my character's a guitarist)/Mick-and-Keef "bromance" thing going on onstage, but for them it really was all an act, and they couldn't stand each other in real life? (Mind, this was before I read Keith Richards' autobiography where he says some not-very-nice things about Mr. Jagger. I thought I was making up this story.) And furthermore… what if they couldn't stand each other in real life because they couldn't stand that the love they showed onstage really did reflect something about their feelings for one another? Being afraid of one's feelings is one of those universal human things I can hook into and identify with, and wrestle with in poems. And then the characters jumped into my head and started talking to me, and since I can't write fiction worth a shit, I started writing poems.
And it was the most fun I've ever had writing poems, I think. I had some poems about them being young and playing in shitty smelly clubs, and a bunch of "on the road" poems that I hope I got more or less right (never having been a touring musician myself, you see - any actual touring musicians reading this who'd like to read a few of them and offer feedback are warmly invited to do so). Oh, and then the guitarist starts liking the rockstar lifestyle a little too much and starts missing rehearsals or showing up too far under the influence to be any good. And the singer/protagonist fires his sorry ass and they stop speaking to one another for years and it's all very, very sad. (I was listening to "Bobby Jean" and Nils Lofgren's "Keith Don't Go" a lot while I was writing some of the poems in this part.) And then the protagonist finds out through the grapevine that the guitarist is terminally ill (hepatitis, I think, though it probably doesn't matter) and in the hospital, so there's a touching deathbed-reunion scene and then a death scene - my fiction-writer friends always talk about how it's really fun, in a twisted way, to kill off your characters and boy howdy, that is really true. And then the whole coming-to-terms-with-grief part of it, which lets me make the sweeping grand "THIS and THIS about HUMANITY" sermon poems I'm unfortunately so fond of (I think a lot of poets are, though, even if they won't admit it). And because it's poems, not fiction, I really haven't spoiled anything by giving y'all the plot. Really. :)
So that's "Chasing Angels." Angels being, at first, the girls they think will pay attention to them if they become rockstars - there's always an angel or two in the front row for them to play to and fall in love with for the two hours that they are onstage, and the challenge of course is to win the audience over, to make the angels fall in love with them - and as the story unfolds, angels become something more problematic and complex.
And I haven't been working on this manuscript for the past year or two, because I'd kind of lost heart with it - but it's time for me to return to it. Because I'm thinking so much about Clarence Clemons, and about the heart and soul of E Street, and about the heart and soul of all of us (see? more sermonizing - jeez, it's too bad I'm allergic to religion; I could've gone to minister school instead of library school). Because I'm back to feeling that how rock & roll affects us says something about who we are as human beings. Because I'm all too aware that you gotta say what you need to say before it's too late.
Hopefully, you'll be hearing more.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
I have so many browser tabs open right now, and emails that I marked "unread" so I'd remember to come back to them, new Twitter followers I want to follow back, links and videos and essays and posts and outpourings of love. I don't know how I'm ever going to get to them all; this evening I had to step away from the immersion for a while and just watch the sunset.
And what I want to say is, I am so grateful. It means so much to be a part of this community, to have people in my life who understand that what happened this weekend was much more than just something sad that happened to some celebrity. Like I said in my last post, the E Street Band has stood for something so vital to me and to many of us for so many years. We've lost something that has been a part of us for a very long time. And it makes us realize that eventually, we lose everything, utterly.
Except for love.
So two things tonight. One, I keep thinking about Clarence's family, close friends, his bandmates. If people like me who never even met the guy were so sad they couldn't sleep last night, imagine how bereft they are. I've lost family members, most of us have by the time we get to be middle-aged; it sucks. Sometimes there's a strange kind of elation in the first day or two, as condolences pour in and you feel loved and as you experience the kind of temporary clarity that comes from being absolutely certain about what is and isn't important in this world. Sometimes you're just fucking exhausted. Usually it's some stupid little thing that sends you over the edge and you just crash for a while - when my dad died one of those things was seeing somebody playing the bass, as he did, and remembering how his right hand looked walking up and down the strings and realizing I was never going to see that again. (Those stupid little things can keep popping up and biting you in the ass for years, too. When you least expect it.)
Anyway, I keep thinking about his close loved ones, and I want to send love and spirit in their direction. I think about Bruce Springsteen, who spent the week by his dear friend's deathbed, and who is probably bereft and exhausted and also trying to write some kind of brilliant, comforting eulogy - and I know I can't just show up at his doorstep offering a hug and a casserole (anyway his security people would whisk me away for trying to poison him, which wouldn't be an unreasonable thing to charge me with considering my culinary prowess or lack thereof, but you can't just say "hey Boss, sorry about your friend, have a Lean Cuisine" now can you?) - we can't bring funeral casseroles, so what can we fans do for those who are hurting and grieving even harder than we are?
We can do what we've been doing these past 24-plus hours, which is to send our love out there into the world. Thousands of us all over the world have been doing this - just look at Twitter! - and I want to say, look how much love Clarence Clemons brought into this world to provoke this flood of feelings, look how much love.
And since he's not here to keep bringing the love and the light, on all those stages and all those recordings where his huge spirit could reach millions - since he's not here, let's each of us just put a little more love out there into the world than we used to. We'll never fill the void left by his passing, especially not the musical void (and don't get me started on how sad I am to wake up in a world where I'll never again stand in the middle of a sweaty crowd punching the air while the Big Man wails out the "Jungleland" solo). But we can honor his lifelong work by bringing a little more love to each day. Just a little more than we did before.
It starts ... NOW. Go.
Tonight I'm here for reasons both sad and celebratory. You've probably heard by now that Clarence Clemons, who played saxophone in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, died Saturday evening a few days after suffering a massive stroke. ...Backtrack. "Played saxophone" doesn't even come close to describing what Clarence, the "Big Man," brought to the band. He was the heart and soul of all that was E Street. When he stepped onto the stage it was like a glorious sunrise. He had a smile that could light up an entire sold-out stadium all by itself, and a saxophone that followed that light with pure fire. And despite the fact that in his last years he was in near-constant pain, having had two hip replacements, two knee replacements, spinal surgery, and goodness knows what else, he still gave that beautiful smile and that music to the world.
I remember the show in St. Louis in 2009 - the next to last show I saw on that last tour - I was in the pit, about three people back from the stage, in front of Clarence. I could tell that he was physically tired, you could see the strain in his face and the pain he clearly felt anytime he moved. But he still gave his all when he played and he still beamed out at the fans, made eye contact with us, appreciated us, flirted with the women up front. And when he played his solo in "Jungleland" I knew I was in church.
Church is exactly what those shows were for me, especially in 2008-09 when I spent money I had no business spending and traveled around to shows in Indianapolis, Nashville (twice), St. Louis (twice), Kansas City, Denver, St. Paul, Chicago (twice), and Mansfield Mass (a two-night stand). Those shows meant the world to me and were the light that I held onto very tightly for a while as I went through (and am still going through) some difficult stuff.
I'll never forget a night in May 2009 when, for the first time, I was lucky enough to be in the very front row of the pit. Steven Van Zandt gave me his guitar pick at the end of the night, and yes, this perfectly rational middle-aged woman turned into a giddy fangirl over a shared smile and a little bit of plastic. Then I found out the next morning that while I'd been waiting in line for the show, my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. A very minor form of it (and after treatment she is completely cancer-free now as far as we know) but still, it was my MOM, and CANCER, so it shook me pretty hard. I literally held on to that guitar pick, took it out and held it tightly in my hand some days to remind me of the joy and the love and the strength of spirit that I find, without fail, in the E Street Band and the E Street Nation.
On so many dark nights over the past 35-plus years when I forgot how to believe in love, so many times it was the E Street Band that reminded me. Clarence Clemons, and his relationship (both the lifelong friendship & the musical partnership) with Bruce Springsteen, is in so many ways at the heart of what I love about E Street. There has been so much written about him, especially tonight - I won't try to replicate it; the obituary at the New Jersey Star-Ledger and the tribute at backstreets.com are the best I've read so far. (We'll also be posting links over at Blogness on the Edge of Town.) I am told that Bruce was at Clarence's side all week as he fought for his life in the hospital; I know he must be exhausted and bereft, but I hope that in his own inevitable dark nights to come, he is also able to hold on to that reminder of what is real and true.
I said earlier that when Clarence played his "Jungleland" solo I knew I was in church. That may seem hyperbolic to some, but at those concerts I was part of a congregation of souls reaching for something higher and truer than our everyday lives, something to believe in, something to help us understand how to live up to our own ideals. And isn't that church?
On that theme, I'm going to post a poem here. I don't usually post unpublished poems, but this seems like the time and place for this one. It's not specifically about Clarence, but it's about the band, about the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "Magic" tours and the two greatest rock & roll shows I have ever seen, thirty years apart. It's about the pact between performer and audience, a pact that I experience as nothing less than love. It is the essence of what is good in this world. It is what I hold on to during hard times. It is love. And I send this out with love to Bruce and the band and the entire E Street family, and to the E Street Nation. May we hold on to our memories of the Big Man, his beautiful music and his beautiful smile and his great big heart, and may we know that this is holy, and may we always keep on singing.
Seventeen/Forty-Seven: Darkness and Magic
I. Seventeen, The Show
(Notre Dame, 9/9/1978)
There is that moment just before
the lights go down, when the crowd
is murmuring feverishly, stamping and sweating
and I am twitching in my shitty seat
and the guy next to me lights up a doobie,
grins and offers me a toke, and I pass
it on to the friend I’m with
and I’m barely in my seat now, barely
in the real world of high
school and lousy cars and girls
who don’t understand a thing,
and I am so ready. I want this.
I count the guitars shining in their stands
on the far-off stage, watch some roadie run
over there to pluck the strings
one last time, Check Check into the microphone
and I rub my thumb across the callused
fingertips of my left hand,
all those hours of burning
up and down the neck of my only
instrument, and I am so,
so ready. I nudge my friend
and grin, I catch the eye
of my neighbor with the doobie
and I grin. I gaze down at the stage
and at the girls in the very front
row in their tight jeans and their
brand-new tour t-shirts, and the crowd
is loud and eager, the stage is set
and ready, and I don’t know
how I can bear to wait even one
minute more: the whole arena feels
like it’s going to rise up
like some great spaceship, just rise
away from the ordinary earth and fly.
II. Communion, After All
(St. Louis, 8/23/2008)
Bruce (to the audience): “Don’t you gotta be in church tomorrow?”
Steve: “We’re in church.”
Steve: “We’re in church now.”
The number is drawn and I’ve missed the pit.
The toe I bashed two nights ago in Nashville
throbs inside my boot. I’m among strangers—
angels, yes, with shining faces, tramps who hold
to the same hymns I do, but on this gray
and dirty street, in this disconsolate line,
strangers still – and I am waiting. I’m losing
faith, a little bit, and then it rains.
I am small and middle-aged. Seventeen
was thirty years ago, and far away.
I close my eyes, pretend to believe the rain
is a blessing, is something sweet – and my tired feet
remember that night, remember holding tightly
to the hand of a friend and rushing the stage,
remember the light that spilled over me
when I leaped atop folding chairs and danced
as you played "Twist and Shout" and the arena
was practically airborne, your kind hands
lifting your guitar, the band all blaze and thunder.
I was seventeen and believed in everything.
Now I straighten my back as the rain lets up,
take a long breath, steady my heart.
Hours yet till showtime.
And then there is waiting. And then
there is chaos and pushing and into the building
and I swear a pair of angels place tender hands
against my back, guide me into the arena. There is kindness
in the eyes of strangers, and a place against the rail.
There is the altar set with microphones
and the sweet choreography of lighting techs
ascending flimsy ladders. There is no place
on Earth or heaven I would rather be
than here, one last guitar check and chords
ring out across the room like waves
against the Jersey shore. I want to kneel.
I give myself to this.
Then sudden darkness and that moment like no other.
Then all rock and roll breaks loose.
Hours later, gratitude ringing in my ears,
you’re about to leave the stage. Then,
no: "We gotta do one for Sophie!" And you lift
your guitar into "Twist and Shout"
and all I can say is a silent "Holy…"
as the light spills over me, over all
of us. I am seventeen and forty-seven. I am an angel
dancing in the flames. There is nothing
but this night, this gift. You close your eyes
and sing, and I close mine and sing:
if there are angels they are in
this pact between us, the promises
we are keeping at this moment.
It’s only music and it’s only the night
but we are alive here, loss and laughter
crowding the lines on our faces, and I know now
that this is holy: that we are here,
blaze and thunder, still singing.
- Anne Haines
Saturday, January 22, 2011
...to bring you an important mesage. Well, important to me anyhow. My laptop kinda got bevirused with a nasty little Trojan backend thing (sounds dirty, huh? well, it IS, just not in the entertaining way). Working on a repair and wishing I were rich enough to say "gee, it's old and percrankety and its hard drive is almost full anyway, I'll just buy a new one." And yes, all my important files (including all of my writing and most, if not all, of the music & photos) were backed up.
Limping along with the smartphone and the slightly temperamental netbook; I'll respond to recent comments & post again just as soon as I can.
Meanwhile, if YOU haven't got everything on your computer good and backed up, I'm using my mom voice here: do it now!