Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bop bop mwee bop

Fabulous concert last night (and when have I ever had so many amazing concerts in such a short time span -- Carrie Newcomer, Joshua Bell, Bruce Springsteen, and now this?) -- Chick Corea, Bobby McFerrin, and Jack DeJohnette. Jazz fans are probably salivating just at the names, as those are three of the most talented musicians around these days. Collectively, they've performed with everyone from Miles Davis to Yo-Yo Ma; McFerrin & Corea have recorded at least a couple of albums together, and Corea and DeJohnette have collaborated, but the short (9-show) tour they're doing now is the first time these three have all performed together.

Well, you'd think they'd been carrying on this musical conversation for their whole lives, judging from how comfortable they were with one another on stage. But that's the genius of jazz, of course: that it is a conversation, that its foundation rests in improvisation. And improvisation is exactly what we got. The three men walked out on stage (and, from my seat in the very front row -- because that's just how I roll, hehe -- I applauded wildly), acknowledged the audience, and took their seats: Corea at the piano, McFerrin in a chair front-and-center, and DeJohnette behind an enormous and complicated-looking drum set.

Corea's bench squeaked as he pulled it up to the piano, and McFerrin vocalized a funny squeak/creak in response, and we were off. For a little over an hour they just played, in every sense of the word: McFerrin channeling everything from Billie Holiday to, um, possibly some kind of space alien; Chick Corea reaching into the piano to pluck and damp the strings and going over to the other side of the stage to hang out by the drums and play some cowbell; Jack DeJohnette singing and joking around and managing to make the percussion into an entire orchestra somehow. Playing.

After a while the audience began to realize that they weren't going to play a "song," stop, take applause, and then start up again: they were just going to keep going, nonstop. That was extremely cool, actually. Occasionally there was a smattering (or more) of applause for a particularly virtuostic solo. And, as always when Bobby McFerrin is there, the audience got to be a part of it too, singing and improvising right along with McFerrin's expert conducting. I'm not sure who was having the most fun in the room, but most everyone in the audience was spellbound & grinning, and I saw big grins on all three musicians' faces at times.

After they finally brought things to a close and took their bows to a standing ovation, the three musicians did something I would never have expected at a show like this: they came down to the front of the stage, sat on the edge of the stage, and took questions for a little while. One of the first questions was "how much of that was improvised?" And the answer: "All of it." (And then McFerrin went into a Garth Brooks voice and "apologized" for not doing any country-western songs. Hee!) Someone else asked if they were going to be recording together, and the answer to that was sort of noncommittal -- so maybe plans are underway but not finalized yet. One certainly hopes so, anyway. And apparently they have been recording all of their concerts as they go along, and occasionally go back to listen to something to figure out what they did. Because it truly is all improvised, so you just never know. A few more questions, then someone asked if they could play "Spain" (one of Chick Corea's best-known tunes). They agreed, and returned to the stage. Corea played piano and both McFerrin and DeJohnette vocalized, and it was loose and lovely -- the perfect encore.

Afterwards I turned into the fangirl that I can be sometimes, and hung out near the backstage exit. Got to shake Bobby McFerrin's hand, and gave him a copy of a poem I wrote the morning after the last time I saw him in concert -- it's a poem sort of about how singing and listening are part of the same thing, and how it felt to be in the audience singing along with him, how it felt like my whole body was both singing and listening all at once. I guess that's kind of an egotistical-poet thing to do, giving him the poem like that, but I think it's a halfway decent poem (as if I am ever capable of objective judgement about my own work... hehe) and, well, why not. I am such a fangirl sometimes.

The drive home featured a large-ish coyote hanging out by the side of the road, and lightning in the distance. It was dark, but because I'd seen them on the way out, I knew that there were about a billion redbuds glowing their nearly fluorescent purple-pink in the darkness alongside the road. I really do live in a beautiful part of the world. I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

(Here's a reviewer's take on the show. He liked it,too)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Honoring the spirit, if not the letter, of NaPoWriMo ... here's a drafty draft. I'll take it down shortly.

[it was an elegy thingie. it's gone now.]

In a wistful sort of place, these past few days. Seems like there have been a lot of losses, most of them not immediate for me but second- or third-hand ... still, enough losses to sort of tinge the world with loss for a while. At the same time, spring is exploding: dogwoods, magnolias, daffodils, tulips, flowering crabapples, flowering cherries, flowering pears... the juxtaposition is heartbreaking in a good way, somehow.

Heard that Springsteen & the surviving members of the E Street Band put on one hell of a concert in Tampa tonight, their first show back on the road after Danny Federici's death last week. Reading the setlist and various reports of the show, I'm kind of getting chills. I wish I could have been there. Someone said it was "one for the ages" and it sure sounds like it was.

We witness one another's lives. First and last, that's what we're here for.

Sandy, the angels have lost their desire for us
I spoke to 'em just last night and they said they won't set themselves on fire for us anymore...

Friday, April 18, 2008

The earth shivers, we say goodbye...

I was awakened just past 5:30 this morning by the earthquake that shook much of the Midwest (a magnitude 5.2, epicenter just over the Illinois line). I didn't know it was an earthquake, though! I'd never felt one before, so when I woke in the dark to hear everything in the house rattling my first thought was oh, the garbage truck -- but (although it does come about that time on Friday mornings) the garbage truck doesn't rattle all the windows. Then I thought must be thunder -- even though there weren't any storms in the forecast, and there wasn't any lightning, and it didn't sound quite like thunder. Trees falling? Large animals dancing on the rooftop? I couldn't figure out what the hell it was, but eventually it stopped and my heart slowed back to its normal rhythm and I decided the house wasn't falling, so I fell back to sleep.

When I woke again an hour or so later to the sound of the radio, they were saying something about an earthquake. Ohhhhhhhh! I said to myself. That explains it!

The radio also gave me a nice little tribute to Danny Federici, playing the last bit of "You're Missing" when his organ solo kicks in -- so plaintive and mournful and yet rising with hope. And I got sad about his death all over again.

Later on in the morning, about 11:15, I was sitting in a small conference room with my boss. I had my back to the door, and the door started rattling. I turned to see who was trying to get in, and nobody was there. Knock knock. Who's there? Aftershock. Aftershock who? (That one was a 4.5.)

I'd never felt an earthquake until today. It's quite unsettling.

At lunchtime I drafted a bit of a poemy thing. It's pretty sentimental, but it was that kind of day really.

[there was an elegy sort of thing here ... if you want to see it, especially Bruce/E street fans, feel free to email.]

photo of Danny Federici and Bruce Springsteen
photo credit: Guy Aceto/Backstreets

And the poets down here don't write nothin' at all,
They just stand back and let it all be...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

the aurora is rising behind us...

Sad, sad news for the E Street Band and all who love them: Danny Federici, E Street organ/accordion player for the past forty years or so, died today of melanoma.

There's a nice obituary up on and another nice one from the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

And as always, the BTX forum on is a good place to find some heartfelt commentary and maybe a little solace.

Danny's last full show with the band was this past November, in Boston. He made a special appearance at the show in Indianapolis on 3/20, where he played three songs during the main set and came back for the encores. I was so happy to see him, the band seemed so happy to have him back, it was a really special night. I think we all thought his return that night was a good sign. Sadly, it turns out to have been his last performance.

I keep listening to "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" which was one of Danny's signature songs for many years, and which he played that night in Indianapolis. (There's a nice video snippet of that Indy performance up on Such a wistful, bittersweet song. I can't imagine Bruce ever performing it again, not without Danny.

Very, very sad.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Update from Obamaland

Yesterday: mid-seventies and sunny.

Today: low forties and drizzly, with possible snow tonight.

Guh. April.

* * * * *

I meant to write more about the Robert Hass reading the other day, but I guess I don't really have that much to say about it. It was quite good; I don't know his work as well as I should, but I'm now reading Sun Under Wood and enjoying it a great deal (after falling in love with his poem "Iowa City: Early April" when he read it Monday). Something about his work reminds me of Mark Doty's in a way, though their subject matter is very different in many ways -- I'll have to think about this some more. Something about the way they both move between descriptive narrative and what you might call philosophical assertions, plus they both write long poems that sort of move down the page in similar ways.

Also, during the interview/Q&A before the reading, Hass mentioned the work of local writer Scott Russell Sanders several times, which was nice. Sanders is a fantastic essayist -- if you haven't read his work, I highly recommend it.

Yes, Hass did read "Meditation at Lagunitas." The undergrad student next to me, dutifully taking notes, was jotting down titles. This one made it to her notebook as "Meditation at ????"

* * * * *

When I was a kid I always noticed that middle-aged ladies wore cardigans draped over their shoulders rather than putting their arms in the sleeves. I always thought this was strange. Now that I am a middle-aged lady myself, I understand: it's because when the hot flash hits, if your arms are in the sleeves it takes too long to get that cardigan off your sweaty self. Ah, the acquired wisdom of middle age.

* * * * *

Yesterday, Barack Obama was scheduled to speak in Columbus and in Terre Haute, with an interesting gap of several hours in between. Bloomington, where I live, is smack in between those two cities. Rumors were flying all day, and from my desk at work I kept checking up on the local newspaper's website where various people were posting credible and less credible things in the comment stream.

Obama did make a "surprise" appearance at the women's Little 500 bike race (the women's race is always on Friday afternoon and the men's race is on Saturday -- if you've seen the movie Breaking Away you know about the Little 500). I found out a bit ahead of time that he would be there, but decided not to leave work early and brave the crowds. But then I started hearing fairly credible rumors that he would be making an appearance somewhere downtown. A few minutes before 5, he was still at the bike race, and when I left work I decided to go hang out downtown just on the off chance -- it was a gorgeous day, so the worst thing that would happen would be I'd get a little bored.

There were great crowds of people near the Sample Gates (entrance to campus) and around the front of Nick's (a popular and long-standing local watering hole). Going on a strong hunch, I headed for Nick's, and once I got there found out that the mayor had been seen there, so I knew I was in the right place -- doubly so when the motorcycle cops showed up and other cops started moving us back to clear the sidewalk.

Rumor travels fast, and there were several thousand people on the street by the time Obama showed up. You could tell where he was by the sound-wave of cheering that followed him as he walked, and also by the giant boom microphone being held over his head. I didn't get a glimpse of him as he went into Nick's, but stayed put as the cops kept us pushed back. Obama stayed in Nick's for maybe fifteen minutes, and when he left the cops released their hold on us and we swarmed after him -- thousands of people cheering, holding up cameras and cellphones to try to snap a shot. I finally managed to get a good glimpse of him just before he got back on board his bus, with that big Obama grin on his face as the crowd broke into a spontaneous chant of "Yes we can! Yes we can!"

Even though I got just the briefest glimpse of him, I am so glad I was there. The energy of that crowd was amazing -- it wasn't like anything else I have ever been a part of. People were happy, inspired, energized. Afterwards people walked around talking to friends and to strangers, talking on their cellphones: "I saw him!" "I shook his hand!!!"

Understand, we are not used to seeing Presidential candidates here. Indiana is such a "red state" that nobody bothers campaigning at us for the general election, and by the time our first-Tuesday-in-May primary rolls around the nominees have usually been decided. This is the first time I can remember that our primary has carried any weight. So it's all new and pretty exciting for us.

* * * * *

I think I drank too much coffee today. But I have 3 new poem drafts, so it was worth it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rainy bits

(Someone left my bits out in the rain ... wait, that sounds bad.)

Yep, rainy here, and storms coming later tonight ... and there's SNOW in the forecast for Saturday night. WTF?!

* * * * *

I make asterisks instead of transitions. Lazy, lazy blogger.

* * * * *

Collin Kelley's new chapbook, After the Poison, is now available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. I just ordered mine tonight. Should be a good one! Pre-order it now and you'll get free shipping.

While I was there I noticed that my freshman creative-writing teacher (who was an MFA student at the time... many years ago), Maureen Picard Robins, also has a Finishing Line Press chapbook available for pre-order. I honestly have no idea what kind of stuff she writes, but I'm curious enough to order it.

My own chapbook will be up for pre-order before too awfully long. Don't worry, I'll remind you. :)

* * * * *

Apparently, the late Norman Mailer's family plans to establish a writers' colony at his home in Provincetown. Cool! One article I found says that it's going to include "distinguished scholars in residence" and "those who have been selected for fellowships at the college level." So it sounds like those of us who aren't in college but don't have books and awards and stuff yet are going to be left out. I know the prevailing trend is for people to get an MFA when they're still in their twenties then start publishing like crazy immediately thereafter, so that there's not so many years between "the college level" and the "distinguished scholar" level. It doesn't always work that way, of course.

Still, maybe this will strengthen the writing community in Provincetown, so that's a good thing.

* * * * *

I think the critter in my attic had babies.

* * * * *

For the first time in my voting life, the Indiana primary actually matters enough to bring candidates to the state. We've had Bill and Chelsea Clinton stumping for Hillary, and Jeremy Piven and Dave Matthews stumping for Obama. There have been rumors that Obama himself would be in town tomorrow, but apparently not, unless he makes a surprise visit (which he did this morning in South Bend). If he does come here, I hope I find out early enough that I can make arrangements to be there! I'd love to hear him speak. I'd love to hear either of the candidates, actually. I would have gone to see either Clinton who was here, but I was stuck at work both times.

* * * * *

I found this on someone's blog a few days ago and now I can't remember whose! Sarabande is giving away free books to people who chalk a few lines from their favorite poem on the sidewalk, and send in a picture of it. See their blog for details. They have some good books in their catalog, so if it ever stops raining here long enough for sidewalk-chalking, I plan to take them up on this nice offer.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Originally uploaded by land mammal
This is a small hill full of daffodils blooming outside the Jordan Ave. parking garage on campus. They're not at their peak yet, but they're starting to look nice. I am so lucky to work on such a gorgeous campus...! Seriously.


Originally uploaded by land mammal
Taken with my cellphone, so you might not be able to tell that the little dot on the front-and-center daffodil is actually a ladybug. Yep, we like the wildlife photography here at the Land Mammal blog...


Originally uploaded by land mammal
The forsythia is crazy this year! Blooming everywhere. This is on campus, taken with my cell phone.

Monday, April 07, 2008

More later, but ...

Just came from the Robert Hass reading and he seemed to be in exceptionally fine spirits.

Perhaps because it is an absolutely gorgeous day here, full of forsythia and daffodils and (as Hass pointed out at the beginning of his reading) male cardinals all of a sudden announcing their availability.

Or perhaps because it was announced today that Time and Materials won the Pulitzer. (It was named a co-winner, along with Failure by Philip Schultz.)

I'm a little sorry that I had to scoot out of the room the instant he finished reading and get to my evening shift on the reference desk; it would have been kind of fun to have a copy of the book signed on the day it won the Pulitzer! Ah well. Enough to have been at the reading.

And since I am at aforementioned reference desk, more will have to wait for later.

(P.S. Go Jayhawks!!!!)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Forsythia days

Every year there's one day when I look outside and suddenly realize that it truly is spring. That day was yesterday. Forsythia is blooming, daffodils are everywhere, and I've even seen the first few redbuds and some other flowering trees starting to bloom. Yesterday and today, both, I went for a little run (which for me means more walking than running, but whatever) in Bryan Park, a lovely green park with little rolling hills, softball diamonds, a swimming pool, and an 0.8 mile path around it. I think every dog in Bloomington was there. And today there were some little bitty kids learning to play softball -- adorable!

Also yesterday, I went to the annual reading by the "Tuesday Poets" (the group formerly known as the Bloomington Free Verse Poets). I think I know everyone in the group at least slightly, some of course better than others. It's always fun to see your friends strutting their stuff, as it were. It was a nice laid-back reading, and there were goodies afterwards. What's not to love?

Tomorrow, I plan to make it to the Robert Hass reading. That should be fun, too.

* * * * *

Doesn't this writers' conference sound like fun? It's in ALASKA. I don't know why, but I would like to go to Alaska someday. Beyond that, some of the panels and workshops sound pretty interesting. Maybe some year I'll get there.

* * * * *

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not really doing NaPoWriMo this year. But I am trying to sit down and scribble out more drafts than usual. I'm trying to at least think about it daily. In the spirit of that, here's a draft from the other day, which owes more than a little something to the recent Springsteen concert.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Funky Town

Just got back from the "Variations on Funk" reading, sponsored by the Indiana Review and the IU MFA program and some other folks. All I can say is ... WOW! This was one of the best readings I've seen here in Bloomington in quite a while. After terrific introductions by Cathy Bowman (chair of the MFA program), Abdel Shakur (editor of Indiana Review's upcoming funk issue), and Ross Gay (MFA program faculty -- and can I just say, I would love to be introduced by him at a reading someday; this is the second time I've heard him introduce poets and he comes up with some really lovely things to say), the four poets --Aracelis Girmay, Tyehimba Jess, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Patrick Rosal -- each read for 15 minutes, then each one came up and read one last short poem.

The room was totally packed, and there'd been some funky music from a couple of DJ's to set the atmosphere, so things already felt pretty high-energy. And I have to say, all four readers absolutely rose to the occasion. It seemed like they all loved listening to one another and fed off of one another's energy; and it was a particularly well-chosen group, with a fair amount in common but with a wide range of voices and subjects and styles -- they complemented one another nicely.

What struck me most was that none of them did that "stare down at the podium and mumble" thing that you see at so many poetry readings. All of them were very aware of their audience and projected, not just their voices, but their spirits (is that too hokey a thing to say?) back to the very back of the room. They weren't just presenting their poems and hoping the audience picked up on them -- they were actively giving their words over to the audience. Does that make sense? It was just so joyful (Patrick Rosal was practically jumping up and down at the podium as he read, though I get the sense that he probably doesn't spend a lot of time standing stock-still anyway *grin*) and high-energy. For sure, nobody in the audience was remotely close to falling asleep! And you know that happens at poetry readings sometimes.

Seriously, if you've been to a lot of poetry readings, you understand me when I say with amazement and glee: Nobody mumbled! Nobody took five minutes between poems shuffling through papers trying to figure out what they were going to read next! Nobody went on and on twice as long as they were supposed to! I came away from it thinking, DAMN, I love poetry. So, you know, that's about the best thing you can hope to walk away from a reading thinking.

What a great reading, what a fun evening, what a pure celebration of funk and poetry.

Also: a "free poetry reading" with a table full of books for sale outside the room? Yeah, that's free as in free kittens, not free as in free beer. Since I already owned both of Aimee's books, I bought one by each of the other poets, and got them signed like the poetry fangirl that I am. Because my house needed more books in it! (Kind of like a New York subway at rush hour needs more people in it!)

P.S. It was a crazy, high-energy day in Bloomington in general, not just in the poetry corner. In the morning, actor Jeremy Piven was at the student union and a couple of fraternities, stumping for Barack Obama. In the afternoon, Bill Clinton drew a crowd of several thousand out at Assembly Hall, stumping for (I'll let you guess who). And also in the afternoon, the Obama campaign announced that Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds will be on campus Sunday, giving an acoustic concert in support of Obama, and several thousand people (mostly students) lined up outside the Obama office to get free tickets. They started lining up when the announcement went out mid-afternoon, and there was still a line down the block when I drove past at almost 9:30 tonight after the reading. Oh yeah, and apparently IU has a new basketball coach now, too (that's huge news in a basketball town like this). Crazy, crazy day!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Fell for one (but it was 7 in the morning on a day when I wasn't due at work until 9, so I was barely barely awake so it was NOT fair! I barely know my own name at that hour, much less remember that it is April 1st), failed to fall for several others (nuh-uh, you are not pregnant), totally pulled off an excellent one on two people at once. Via email. Because if there's one thing I can not do to save my life, it's keep a straight face.

* * * * *

Totally looking forward to the Variations on Funk reading tomorrow night! I have to work until 6, so I'm going to have to super hustle in order to get home, feed and medicate the cats, grab a fast bite to eat (I'll probably have a Luna bar and call it dinner), and get over to the Waldron for the 7:00 reading. It should be well worth it.

* * * * *

I've managed to get my grubby little hands on an mp3 of Bruce Springsteen's performance of "Point Blank," one of my very very favorite songs of his (it's on The River), from Seattle the other night. I have been listening to it obsessively. It's haunting. And now I remember that sometimes it's nice to be haunted.

* * * * *

Not doing NaPoWriMo this year, although I am going to make an effort to write more -- or at least more often -- than usual this month. Thinking about it, I realized that in the past I've written many of my NaPo poems on my lunch break. But for a number of months now, I've been using my lunch break to take a nice brisk walk, on the theory that at my age (forty-six!) it is probably time to make an effort to be less of a desk potato. I've lost about 50 pounds in the past twelve months, and I'm not willing to risk backsliding for the sake of a few poems. If I get myself healthier I'll live longer and write that many more poems, right? Sure.

I do think NaPo is a great thing, though. You write by, oddly enough, sitting down to write. Not by sitting around waiting for the Muse to strike. For those of us who find ourselves inclined towards waiting for the Muse, it's a good thing to take charge of the process and say, the heck with waiting, I'm going to write. I've also found that having the self-expectation that you will write a poem every day makes you just a little more alert to poem possibilities all around you, being open to letting a poem take off from the slightest little thing. And that's a good space to be in.

But I'm just a bit too crazed right now. I may try to do a daily poem some other month, like maybe October. Just not this month.

* * * * *

I've been offered a pretty cool project for the near-to-middling future. Should be a lot of fun. More on this later.

* * * * *

For anyone who missed it Sunday and would like to listen in, the podcast of my "Poets Weave" appearance from this past Sunday is now available. Go to, scroll down to Poets Weave, and for now the link is right there on the front page. (When they get a new one up, you'll need to click through to the Poets Weave page and grab it from there.)

If you listen (and if you feel so moved), let me know! :)