Monday, May 10, 2021

BEAUTY: Photography--Fiorella Baldisserri

Italian photographer Fiorella Baldisserri's approach is that of a photojournalist and her series Morris the "Cinemaio" is entirely charming and nostalgic (some of these images take me right back to the dark and hushed excitement of the little, red-velvet-draped movie theatre in the tiny town in upstate New York where I grew up). In this series, she documents the sole owner and operator of a cinema in a small town in the province of Bologna, Italy. Morris Donini is dedicated to the magical world of film but like many people in many different professions, he has struggled during COVID. She writers about her series below:

"Cinema has always been Morris Donini’s dream. Everyone knows and loves him as Morris the 'cinemaio', the artisan of the cinema. In this year of forced closure due to the pandemic, he decides to keep showing movies in an empty theater. In the darkness of his cinema, Morris sits on an armchair or on the floor at the back of the room, as he used to do during normal times, as if he is savoring lights and atmospheres that only images can give. He keeps the doors open to allow the inhabitants of the small town to hear the voices and the music of the stories projected, while flashes of light come out as reflections that send a message: cinema exists, the show goes on. Resilience is also and mostly this: Morris (and sometimes his dog), as a sole spectator in a moment of great difficulty, with closed cinemas but with rents to be paid, with strength and determination, hoping that lights won’t switch off forever. Since his childhood, Morris drew cinemas in school notebooks with his flans for posters and his film reviews. From an early age, dreams are created and they later become ideals to be pursued. By chance he met the owner of a cinema in a small town in the province of Bologna and since then, every day, he asked him to become part of that world as he wanted to experience the atmosphere of the room, with its red velvet fabrics, the armchairs and the magical screen. In return he offered to run small works. Years passed and on the death of the owner he was asked to manage that cinema. Morris was 29 and without a second thought he accepted. Today he directs three provincial cinemas: cinema to give cultural identity even to small towns. Morris pursued an ideal of life that with patience and dedication became a reality. In Italy, cinema business has undergone a drastic reduction of more than 70% in terms of presences and incomes, causing an estimated loss of more than 25 million spectators: a collapse that has never been seen or even hypothesized since the birth of this sector which today is an industry."

Sunday, May 9, 2021

BBC Style: Maximalism!

'Cluttercore': the anti-minimalist trend that celebrates mess

By Bel Jacobs
3rd May 2021

Image credit: The Apartment, Copenhagen

Maximalist interiors full of mismatched stuff are a sign of the times. Bel Jacobs explores the rise of creative chaos at home, and why it makes us feel safe and cocooned.

"I've always been fascinated by all types of objects: toys, illustrated books, postcards, porcelain," says Spanish artist Juanjo Fuentes, who is telling BBC Culture about his fantastical home in the historic centre of Malaga, in which almost every surface is covered by a joyous array of baubles and curios. "I get things from flea markets and I've always been the one keeping the family objects. And I'm very lucky because my friends offer me the objects that belonged to their relatives – they are more minimalist than I am," he laughs.

The rooms are filled with gorgeous abundance: light and pattern, inspiration for both the eye and the mind. Artworks, exchanged with fellow artists, swell the walls. It's no surprise that, when the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) was looking for artists to illustrate the act of creative curation, they paired Fuentes with British photographer Martin Parr: "Both collections are generated by compulsive collecting and mass results." That was 2012. Now, nine years later, Fuentes' beautiful eclecticism feels more relevant than ever.

Artist Juanjo Fuentes's home in Spain is full of interesting and beautiful curios (Credit: Juanjo Fuentes)

He's not the only one to prefer an eclectic, cluttered approach. Currently, the UK news is dominated by a story about the refurbishment of PM Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds' flat. In an opinion piece, the Guardian describes the look of Symonds' chosen interior designer, Lulu Lytle, as "two parts Raj, one part boho, two parts anteroom from the set of The Crown". For most maximalists though, the look is less specific.

The pandemic has changed the way we relate to the world, re-igniting a love of loungewear as well as indoor glamour, outdoor spaces and even our ideas of society. And it has changed the way we relate to our homes. Once, spaces that we only saw at the top and tails of days have become busily multifunctional: nurseries as well as offices, battlegrounds as well as sanctuaries. For some, that meant clear outs – charity shops are bracing themselves for the flood of second-hand goods – but for others, that has meant surrounding themselves with things they love.

"People are taking this self-swaddling approach, particularly now," says Jennifer Howard, author of Clutter: An Untidy History. "We want to feel safe, we want to feel comfortable, we want to feel protected and taken care of – stuff can act like a literal cocoon." Social media has anointed this new movement #cluttercore, totting up more than 13 million views on TikTok at the time of writing, and more than 7,000 mentions on Instagram. After decades of being told to put our things away, here finally is a trend that celebrates disorder, challenges restraint, and puts maximalism front and centre.

Those imagining week-old cups of tea and discarded pizza boxes associated with the word "clutter" will be disappointed. Even famous scenes of disarray such as artist Francis Bacon's bombsite of a studio wouldn't cut it. Cluttercore offers vibrant (but never grimy) explosions of colour and texture, patterns and prints, kitsch against classic. "'Clutter' suggests something chaotic to me, so it's fascinating to see this sort of intentional approach to clutter," muses Howard. "It's more creative chaos."

The eclectic style of interior designer Lulu Lytle is said to be admired by Carrie Symonds, the UK PM's fiancée (Credit: Soane Britain/ Lulu Lytle sample image)

Look up the definition of "clutter" in the Oxford English Dictionary, ("A collection of things lying about in an untidy state") and it feels inaccurate to describe this interiors phenomenon. Cluttercore is not about filling rooms with tat; it's about loving what you already own. In a changing world, where constants are being challenged, cluttercore helps people ground themselves in the material, and in beautiful things that often hark from a more stable past. "There's a real sense of abundance that is appealing right now, given how constricted our lives have become," says Howard.

Exuberant mismatching

Fuentes's home is a case in point: a lush exercise in exuberant mismatching in which every piece has its place. In last autumn's issue of Modern House, Alison Lloyd of luxury accessories label Ally Capellino offered readers the "organised clutter" of her home, with its decorated eggs and found objects and the odd quirky touch, like a branch suspended over a fireplace. In this spring's World of Interiors, British designer's Matthew Williamson's Balearic retreat displays a "joyful maximalism". In everything, he asks: "Can I increase the happy factor?"

Founded by Tina Seidenfaden Busck, The Apartment, a design gallery located in an 18th-Century building in Copenhgaen, offers a similar visual joie-de-vivre. Hailed in a recent article in the Financial Times as "one of the pioneers of the mismatched, love-worn look", Busck is a former Sotheby's employee turned art consultant. The Apartment is designed to look like a private home, albeit one that is constantly changing, from which you can purchase anything you see: from the art to the furniture. Nothing "matches" but everything looks spectacularly desirable.

The Apartment in Copenhagen is a design gallery and a pioneer of the eclectic, maximalist look (Credit: The Apartment, Copenhagen)

Vintage exhibition posters may sit alongside coffee tables by Danish designer Kaare Klint, Murano glass chandeliers and an Italian manila rope doormat made by a fisherman, discovered by Busck while on holiday. "If I don't love it, I don't buy it," says Busck. "When I look around my home, there are so many things with different nationalities and dates of origin but somehow it all comes together, so there must be some thread between the things I'm attracted to." The pandemic, she adds, has reminded us that home should be a place "where you are surrounded by things that you love, rather than those you put up with".

And social media provides inspiration. Take the beautiful New Jersey home of @1920craftsman, whose sleek wooden floors are brightened with vintage glass accents and foliage; mid-century cane-work armchairs with burnt orange seats are a Facebook marketplace find, a vintage glass lightshade was bought in second-hand shop. "For me, these objects tell a story and capture the story of our home. They're a reflection of us."

'Joyful maximalism' is how fashion-and-interiors designer Matthew Williamson describes his aesthetic (Credit: Matthew Williamson for Belmond la Resindencia)

Happiness, exuberance, complexity, storytelling: it's quite a shift from orchestrated minimalism that has dominated design media. Organising guru Marie Kondo has been its most passionate exponent, persuading ordinary people and celebrities to jettison items from their homes that don't "spark joy"; her legacy is continued by blogs and television series including US presenters The Minimalists, whose book Love People, Use Things: Because the Opposite Never Works is due out in July 2021.

It couldn't last forever; apart from anything else, keeping one's house spick and span is hard work. "One personal organiser I interviewed mentioned that a lot of her clients who aspire to minimalism find they just can't live that way," reflects Howard. "Life is not full of spacious surfaces without stuff on them." Advocates of cluttercore, she says, "admit that they have a lot of stuff but that they're going to take pleasure in that and arrange [their items] in ways they like. As a counter aesthetic to the minimalist hegemony, that makes sense to me."

Sometimes, it's good not to do what magazines tell you to. Cluttercore turns ordinary people into curators. It takes real creativity to think about what goes where and what each item says about the other. Plus, decluttering can possess bleaker undertones. "I have a running list of theories," writes Howard. "People organise and declutter to distract themselves from the seriousness of living in the Anthropocene and its existential threats – a burning planet, the Sixth Great Extinction – inoculating us against the pandemic of anxiety." You'll never tidy your house in the same way again.

And there are yet other benefits to maximalism. Richer nations throw away tons of stuff every year, often dumping unwanted items on poorer countries who lack the infrastructure to dispose of them properly, decimating local landscapes. In this context, cluttercore becomes a revolutionary riposte to the explosion of "stuff" driving just some of the problems Howard outlines.

The walls of Fuentes's apartment are adorned from top to bottom with works by fellow artists (Credit: Araceli Martin Chicano)

After plotting the history of poorly made objects and the "resulting crisis of hyper-consumerism" in her new book Loved Clothes Last, Orsola de Castro writes: "As a self-confessed clothes keeper, I am no fan of decluttering." Hailed as "a kind of anti-Marie Kondo," the fashion campaigner describes storing unworn clothes and then digging them out every few years. "The feeling is the same as being contacted by an old, much-loved friend. This year, I rediscovered an incredible midi Shantung silk skirt and have been wearing it everywhere."

De Castro's experience makes it clear: just because an item doesn't spark joy right now, there's nothing to say it won't in the future – which is all the more reason to keep it in front of you. Does Fuentes ever pack away unused items? "It never happens. I know exactly where everything is. Sometimes, as a joke, my family hides things – but I realise instantly." How does living among his objects make Fuentes feel? "I wouldn't know how to live without them. They all have a story. They are part of my life."

Link to original article:

Saturday, May 8, 2021

"The Sea" by Jordan Hunt

Absolutely mesmerizing.

Jordan Hunt (previously here) sings "The Sea" which, dear readers, rips me apart. He says, "When you are classically trained, you’re taught that music is the point. But I’ve grown to believe that an emotional connection with the audience is much more important. Trained singers can be impressive, but you also need that nugget of rawness to draw you in. Without that, there’s no substance, just performance. Iconic singers have both."

Like the other songs and videos from his extended play release "Long Lost," this is exquisite, not only sonically and lyrically but visually as well.

Friday, May 7, 2021

BEAUTY: Photography--Daniel Freeman

English photographer Daniel Freeman loves to travel across the United States capturing images of small towns and villages at night. The atmosphere is lovely and lonely with a single streetlight or neon sign illuminating empty streets and sidewalks...

He has released a collection of these mysterious, moody images in a book called MIDNIGHT ON MAIN. To buy a copy, see the link at the bottom.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Happy National Day of Reason 2021!

Celebrated the first Thursday of every May, today is the National Day Of Reason. It is more important now than ever to promote reason and truth; we (our country, our government, and Democracy itself) barely survived the last four years of the last administration yet there are still huge groups who continue to believe in bizarre conspiracy theories that threaten the fabric of our lives. There is a large segment of the citizenry since who don't care about facts or reality or obvious consequences such as spreading a deadly pandemic. We need Reason, Logic, and Action, not thoughts and prayers.

The National Day of Reason was created by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists in 2003. In addition to serving as a holiday for constitutionalists and secularists, the National Day of Reason was created in response to the perceived unconstitutionality of the National Day of Prayer.

The National Day Of Reason site says:

With the religious right’s influence in Congress, and with the threat to our judiciary looming large, there has never been as important a moment in which to affirm our commitment to the constitutional separation of religion and government, and to celebrate reason as the guiding principle of our secular democracy.

During the past year we have witnessed the intrusion of religious ideology into all spheres of our government, with such assaults on the wall separating church and state as:

Faith-based initiatives in federal agencies that give preferential treatment to religious organizations which proselytize and employ discriminatory hiring practices;

Restrictions on important scientific research on the basis of religious objections;

Attempts to introduce biblical creationism and its alter-ego “Intelligent Design” into our public school science curricula;

The appointment of judges who willingly place their religious beliefs above our laws;

Battles over the display of the Ten Commandments and other overtly religious icons in schools and on courthouses;

Religiously motivated restrictions on access to reproductive services and information.

As in previous years, this year’s National Day of Reason coincides with the congressionally mandated and federally supported National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 6, 2021. We thank all who value the separation of religion and government & join us in commemorating this year’s Day of Reason, and in building awareness for this important cause.

For more information about The National Day Of Reason, visit the website:

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

"El Invento" by José González

This one sideswiped me...I was not quite prepared for the brevity and the absolute, tender beauty in such simplicity.

José González (previously here) sings the all-too short "El Invento," his first song in Spanish, inspired by the questions his young daughter asks about the world.

Monday, May 3, 2021

"Zero" by Ólafur Arnalds

Wowsa, just take a look at this video for "Zero" by modern composer Ólafur Arnalds. I have been so interested in what drones can do for film, from a photography perspective, and did not even think of what drones can do for lighting! As the dancers move through the forest in this video, they are lit by some local stationary lights, but the motion and atmosphere come from the shifting lights overhead on a drone, making the shadows of the branches swirl around them. UTTERLY MAGICAL.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

IMPORTANT: Notice to Oh, By The Way FollowByEmail Subscribers

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"Convocations - Meditations" by Sufjan Stevens

My god. I am nearly speechless. The angel Sufjan Stevens (previously here) has released a collection of ambient tracks that are some of the most profound sounds I have heard in a long while.

It may be tempting to reduce Convocations into a longform ambient anomaly within Sufjan Stevens’ vast catalogue. It is, however, neither an anomaly nor entirely ambient. This is not a side project. From his numerous dance scores for New York City Ballet to instrumental albums such as Enjoy Your Rabbit, Aporia, and The BQE, Stevens spends at least half his working life making largely instrumental music, as he has for decades. And though the first ten pieces, dubbed “Meditations,” unfurl as gorgeous states of reflective new-age grace, this is by no means an ambient enterprise. Stevens invokes the lessons of Morton Subotnick, Maryanne Amacher, Christian Fennesz, Brian Eno, and Wolfgang Voigt here. As musically erudite as it is emotionally experienced, Convocations can be dissonant, vertiginous, rhythmic, repetitive, urgent, or calm—that is, all the things we undergo when we inevitably live through loss, isolation, and anxiety.

Indeed, Convocations moves like a two-and-a-half-hour requiem mass for our present times of difficulty, its 49 tracks allowing for all these feelings to be felt. The album is divided into five sonic cycles, each replicating a different stage of mourning. Convocations occasionally soothes and sometimes hurts; when it’s done, you’re left with a renewed sense of wonder for being here at all.

In fact, Stevens made Convocations in response to (and as an homage to) the life and death of his biological father, who died in September last year, two days following the release of The Ascension. It is, then, ultimately an album about loss, and an album that reflects a year in which we have all lost so much. One could easily compare this project to Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell, which he wrote following his mother’s death. But this is something entirely different. A new time, a new season, a new life lost, a new reckoning, a new kind of isolation, grief, despair, frustration, confusion, and the search for happiness and hope for the future. This is not a personal record, but a universal one. Convocations is built on a shared experience that seeks to be honest about how complicated grief can be in these difficult times—the pain, the anxiety, the unknown, the absolute joy of memory. This is also an album made in lockdown, when we were all cloistered in whatever space we had. So long as the science and statistics hold, Convocations arrives just as we begin to emerge from a year whose losses we will calculate for a lifetime. It is, then, right on time, as we begin to process our grief and try to carry on with it. 
—Grayson Haver Currin

The first of the five volumes, "Meditations," was released on April 8, 2021 and all ten tracks are posted below. "Meditation I" makes me weep.

The other four volumes, "Lamentations," "Revelations," "Celebrations," and "Incantations," are scheduled to be released by May 6, 2021.

Friday, April 30, 2021

"A Long Time Coming"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have shared examples of my work on Fridays in April.
For our final day of National Poetry Month 2021, I share with you a new poem, "A Long Time Coming."

A Long Time Coming

I see her as I drive by, headlights saturating a woman
by the side of the freeway, on the grassy triangle
surrounded by trees between the on and off ramps, her arms
outstretched as though basking in an invisible sun, palms open
and up as if weighing her options, eyes closed, face to the sky.
Despite the snow and dark, she wears an ankle length summer dress,
her bare brown arms and shoulders glowing in the beams from my grill.
I may see all this in a second, but she has been standing here a long time.

I have passed no car that could belong to her, and wonder where she came from, how she got here,
but a police cruiser has already slowed, parked, the blue red hiccupping in the black.
The officer walks toward her and I see in my rear view mirror how he simply stops,
falls forward in the snow, without any attempt to break his fall, settling face down,
neither of them moving as they grow smaller, fade into the night.

©JEF 2021

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Poem In Your Pocket Day 2021: "Ode to Sitting in a Booth" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

This year for National Poetry Month, Poem In Your Pocket Day is almost the last day of the month...this is a day when people take a poem with them through their day to share with the world. If you are unbale to go to school or workplace becasue of the virus, consider digitally sharing your poem.

So let's look at a poem that is itself a delightful celebration of going out to a favorite dark spot for a drink and a good time. It's a reminder that we will all be able to go out and have a good time again, once it's safe to do so...

Ode to Sitting in a Booth
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

It’s the closest thing to a cave. I have to resist
this wild urge to carve a name or word in it.

My favorite way to sit here is with cold vodka
& grapefruit juice & whatever bitter concoction

you’re sipping. Under the table I’ll nudge you
with my heels—a sign no stalactite or dripstone

will stop us. Bats do not require any energy
to claw-dangle upside down. All they need

is to relax & gravity & there’s plenty of both
swirling to go around. No matter how loud

this bar, within these three walls we can drop
straight into a very electric flight. We can

pretend we don’t answer to anyone–including
the waitress–& no one even knows where we are.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

"Abecedarian 'G'” by Daniel Schonning

For National Poetry Month 2021, I have presented special poems by special poets each Wednesday. And for our final installation of poets for this year, let's meditate on this incredibly atmospheric, profound poem by the talented Daniel Schonning. He has miraculously managed to examine all the "big" life issues in a small space--life, death, religion, love, and the existential question of being. 

Abecedarian “G”
by Daniel Schonning

God says to the meek one, “On Sunday mornings, have them say ‘Yes’—say ‘Yes,’ brightly.
Have them nestle dollar bills in the knots of elm trees; use three times the zest in their lemon curds.
If it’s snowing, open the flue and start up the fire. Tell them there’s a double-dutch
jumprope with their name on it. Paint the windows violet, paint the lattice pink. Tell them every
knock-kneed great blue heron is just like me: long legs, quick eyes, and chock-full of
longing. Tell them I’ve got a real doozy of a crossword clue that I just can’t get—eight letters, ends with an x.” So the

meek one says, “All right”—goes to the window, sets his yellow workgloves on the sill. He could
not be more tired. His fingers have that tingling feeling, like they’re boiling—it must be below zero
    outside, he thinks, too cold for walking. But it’s plenty warm in here. If he’s honest, the meek one’s had
one hell of a day. His mother’s dying—can only eat bananas, milk, and bits of uncooked dough. He just can’t
put it out of his mind. Her voice is thinning out a little more each morning: when she wakes up crying, it sounds like a kestrel
    singing from far off. Sounds like she’s got a
question stuck in her throat. What that means to the meek one, he doesn’t know—for now, he’s waiting for the snow to fall a little
    softer, for the
room to darken, so he can set out—keep x-ing the boxes on his to-do list. At least it’s warm here, he thinks. God says to the
    meek one, “On

Sunday evenings, have them bundle their children in blankets made of pansies—yellow over blue—then hunker down for the
    night. And if they have to leave, remind them
to zip up their coats—it’s cold, ice cold, out there. In the crawl space
under that double-wide, there’s a nest of jaybirds—tell them not to look, or the birds are prone to
vanish. Ask if, sometimes, everyone would just keep quiet.
When a foghorn lows at night, pours itself out on the salt reeds and beaches, rattles the pier’s
x-shaped pilons and sets the gulls flying, ask if they’ll just listen.” So the meek one says, “All right”—keeps looking through the
    window. There’s a grove of
young aspen trees—“daughters,” they’re called—laid bare by the cold. The meek one is not sure they’ll make it. As a gray
zips from one naked branch to the next, the meek one thinks
about his mother. She’ll be getting hungry soon. She mostly stays in bed, but yesterday the meek one found her crumpled on the
bathroom floor. Her long hair—always in a neat, high bun—was spread wide on the slate, bright as zinc. One summer, when the
    roads were dirt and the roof was tin, a thunderhead
crawled through town like a freight train—no rain, no hail, just hot wind and lightning. At the time, the meek one’s mother said
    the storm could take the house right off its feet; would
draw the meek one clear up to heaven if he didn’t just stay put in that bathroom, hold tight to the hot water valve, and hope—said
    she’d be right back. But the meek one couldn’t help it. When the storm shook the house, he ran to the main room and peered
    out the window.

Even in the half-light, the meek one saw his mother at once. She was lying on the knoll outside,
    holding quick to two fistfuls of grass—watching the black cloud fill and empty with long threads
    of light. She was speaking into the wind. The warm air surged against her upturned face, must
    have filled her lungs—drew skyward a havoc of her black hair. At the time, the meek one
    thought she might have been saying, “Please.”
From the other room, the meek one hears his mother wake, try to rise. The light dims. He slips his
    gloves into his back pocket, takes up his list and marks one box with an x. Turning from the
    window, the meek one says, “All right.”

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Single" by Everything But The Girl

To observe National Poetry Month, once a week I am posting song lyrics from different genres that double as exquisite poetry.

This melancholy mediation on a dissolved relationship in "Single" by Everything But The Girl (Ben Watt and singer Tracey Thorn, previously here--with lyrics by Thorn) is a much more introspective affair than the usual break-up song. It has a world-weary, gentle quality, steeped in a hard-earned wisdom.

by Everything But The Girl
I called you from the hotel phone
I haven't dialed this code before
I'm sleeping later and waking later
I'm eating less and thinking more
And how am I without you?
Am I more myself or less myself?
I feel younger, louder
Like I don't always connect
Like I don't ever connect

And do you like being single?
Do you want me back?
Do you want me back?
And do I like being single?
Am I coming back?
Am I coming back?

I'll put my suitcase here for now
I'll turn the TV to the bed
But if no one calls and I don't speak all-day
Do I disappear?
And look at me without you
I'm quite proud of myself
I feel reckless, clumsy
Like I'm making a bad mistake
A really big mistake

And do you like being single?
Do you want me back?
Do you want me back?
And do I like being single?
Am I coming back?
Am I coming back?
Do you want me back?

And now I know
Each time I go
I don't really know

What I'm thinking
And now I know
Each time I go
I don't really know
What I'm thinking of

Do you want me back?

Friday, April 23, 2021

"fighting for two worlds"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting some examples of my work on Fridays in April.
Here is "fighting for two worlds."

fighting for two worlds

She believes there’s
an opening, an
aperture in the
evening shadows
where everything happens.
She says there’s
no word for it
but I know there is
and that word is
Not quite a place,
not quite a thing,
not a time or a state,
it’s none of these, yet all.
It’s the hinge between
day and night,
the safe place
you’ve searched for,
the eye of the storm.
It’s a chance to
catch your breath
and hide from the
screaming, clawing
day and the
novocaine night.
Don’t look at it,
try to look at
the space between
what you know and
what you don’t.
I know it’s there—
I can’t be the only one
who hears the voices
telling me to hurry,
who feels a veiled force
pushing my pen, my brush,
the paint, my mind,
carrying me along
on unseen rapids.
There must be others
who feel this
drive, this swell
from the middle.
You must be out there—
let me hear from you,
you who work this
foundry with me,
you who hear
the instructions to
give shape and form
to these sacred shadows
and follow them as I do.
We are building
a link through our
exquisite twilight, a link
between here and there.
We are learning
to tie knots,
to join planks,
to cut stone. We are
fighting for two worlds,
stretching them toward
the deepest part,
the heart of it all.
And to those of you
who only see your
flat world, resist the
Nightshade, the Belladonna,
and don’t despair;
we are working hard
here in this place
where it’s always bedtime.
Soon, we will all travel
through impossibility
and still remain alive.

©JEF 1998

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

"One Season" by Tony Hoagland

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting exquisite poems by talented poets.

I love this special, memoir-style piece from Tony Hoagland.

One Season
by Tony Hoagland

That was the summer my best friend
called me a faggot on the telephone,
hung up, and vanished from the earth,

a normal occurrence in this country
where we change our lives
with the swiftness of hysterical finality

of dividing cells. That month
the rain refused to fall,
and fire engines streaked back and forth crosstown

towards smoke-filled residential zones
where people stood around outside, drank beer
and watched their neighbors houses burn.

It was a bad time to be affected
by nearly anything,
especially anything as dangerous

as loving a man, if you happened to be
a man yourself, ashamed and unable to explain
how your feelings could be torn apart

by something ritual and understated
as friendship between males.
Probably I talked too loud that year

and thought an extra minute
before I crossed my legs; probably
I chose a girl I didn't care about

and took her everywhere,
knowing I would dump her in the fall
as part of evening the score,

part of practicing the scorn
it was clear I was going to need
to get across this planet

of violent emotional addition
and subtraction. Looking back, I can see
that I came through

in the spastic, furtive, half-alive manner
of accident survivors. F**k anyone
who says I could have done it

differently. Though now I find myself
returning to the scene
as if the pain I fled

were the only place that I had left to go;
as if my love, whatever kind it was, or is,
were still trapped beneath the wreckage

of that year,
and I was one of those angry firemen
having to go back into the burning house;
climbing a ladder

through the heavy smoke and acrid smell
of my own feelings,
as if they were the only
goddamn thing worth living for.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder"

To observe National Poetry Month, once a week I am featuring lyrics of rock n' roll or pop songs that also double as exquisite poetry. 

I am a huge fan of the 70's/80s/still-recording (and touring!) band Scritti Politti--and I can't believe I have yet to post their lyrics during National Poetry Month. Formed in 1977 in Leeds by singer-songwriter Green Gartside, the band first operated as a sort of post-punk vehicle for Green's societal and political views. I found them in the 80s when they released their second album domestically, a thrilling, dizzying miracle of synthesizers called "Cupid & Psyche 85." But more than anything, Green loved to play with language and words. After an 11 year hiatus, he came back with a fascinating hybrid of an album called "Anomie & Bonhomie" which mixed his signature Scritti sound with hip hop artists. But this song, "Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder" is a slower, more acoustic affair. Its enigmatic, atmospheric sense reads like a Sam Spade short story. Take a read and see what narrative unfolds for you.

Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder
by Green Gartside

Brushed with oil, dusted with powder
The day began to decline
A broken door, a hotel bedroom
The sun cut in through the blind (oh but I tell you)
The officer asked "How did it start?"
Oh sh*t, "You know, I wish I knew," I said
"On Highbury Fields, the Westside Highway
Or here in the Hollywood hills"

In a black and white, to Orange County
The sky was a beautiful blue
A pack of lights, some keys they found there
They wondered how much I knew (oh but I tell you)
The officer asked "How did it start?"
Oh sh*t, "You know, I wish I knew," I said
"On Highbury Fields, the Westside Highway
Or here in the Hollywood hills"

And yes, it's over
And yes, now the powerful have found me
It was beautiful to see
It was how we're meant to be
It was love, no matter what they say

It's wonderful to be here

Abraham, my father, had a girl he called his angel
I made my excuses and I like the way it feels

The officer asked "How did it start?"
Oh sh*t, "You know, I wish I knew," I said
"On Highbury Fields, the Westside Highway
Or here in the Hollywood hills"

And yes, it's over
Oh yes, now the powerful have found me
It was beautiful to see
It was how I'm meant to be
It was love, no matter what they say

It's wonderful to be here

Friday, April 16, 2021

"Travel Restrictions"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting some examples of my work on Fridays in April.
Here is "Travel Restrictions."

Travel Restrictions

You act as if
flights can only arrive.
You seem to forget
flights can depart as well.
Stay or go, I don't care but
I don’t want to
see you at the airport

© JEF 2020

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

"A New National Anthem" by Ada Limón

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting exquisite poems by talented poets. This beautiful piece, " A New National Anthem" by Ada Limón, at once obliquely scathing and tender, is about the reality of what being part of a nation really means...not the hyperbole and posturing, but the actual living which extends beyond where borders are currently drawn.

A New National Anthem
by Ada Limón

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
the truth is, every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Burning Down The House"

To observe National Poetry Month, once a week I am posting song lyrics from different genres that double as interesting poetry.

This post features a song from Talking Heads. "Burning Down The House" was originally a 1983 studio jam without words. After just filling in the rhythm with random syllables, lead singer/songwriter David Byrne says he turned to a list of "loads and loads of phrases collected that I thought thematically had something to do with one another," and the song was born. These phrases all have roots in platitudes and old sayings but used in this post-modern context, they take on a strange, new resonance. The fact that these worn out banalities are strung together in such a relentless way, gives this found-object song a sinister twist.

Burning Down The House
by Talking Heads (words by David Byrne)

Watch out, you might get what you're after
Cool babies, strange but not a stranger
I'm an ordinary guy
Burning down the house

Hold tight, wait 'til the party's over
Hold tight, we're in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house
Here's your ticket, pack your bags
Time for jumping overboard
The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far
Baby, you know where you are
Fighting fire with fire
All wet! Here, you might need a raincoat
Shakedown, dreams walking in broad daylight
Three hundred sixty five degrees
Burning down the house

It was once upon a place, sometimes I listen to myself
Gonna come in first place
People on their way to work and baby what did you expect?
Gonna burst into flame
Burning down the house
My house is out of the ordinary
That's right, don't wanna hurt nobody
Some things sure can sweep me off my feet
Burning down the house
No visible means of support and you have not seen nothin' yet
Everything's stuck together
And I don't know what you expect staring into the TV set
Fighting fire with fire

Sunday, April 11, 2021

"Riding With Maria" by Judy Nilsen

My dear friend of twenty-five years or so, Judy Nilsen is not a professional poet but she has the mind of one. She does not write poetry often so when she shared this one with me a few years back, I felt it was something very special.

For National Poetry Month, here is my friend Judy's moving, bittersweet, elegiacal poem "Riding With Maria."

Riding With Maria
by Judy Nilsen

According to the moderator,
Maria Callas is not in possession
of one of the world's angelic voices,
which are a dime a dozen,
but is, rather,
"a dramatic conveyance of female passion".

The aria is surging now,
moving with unstoppable energy to a climactic close.
The harmonic tension is pulled tight,
the orchestra climbing an uphill crescendo,
the violins on their tiptoes reaching for the heavens.
Finally it happens:
Callas hits the most amazing high E flat,
pulling the cork right out of my soul.

So I take a deep breath
and with full-throated abandon
join her on an Italian word I don't understand
but can feel in every bone of my body,
resonating with the force of life.

While Maria and I hold our high note together
in breath-defying exultation,
I look up at the sky,
clear blue and cloudless.
A dark black hawk is soaring with us,
as graceful and buoyant in its own flight
as Callas on her soaring E flat.

At this very moment,
when Callas and I and the hawk
share a few precious beats
in the rhythm of the Universe,
I let go of the steering wheel.

At 75 miles an hour,
I throw both arms open wide to all of life:

to the hot crisp hillsides
    dotted with masses of dark green trees
to the hawk dipping its wings
    in air pungent with the smell of summer
to my sore hands steering the way
    as my hair blows around my face
to my father's painful steps
    and the twinkle still in his eyes
to my mother's spotted arm reaching for pills
    as loganberry pie bakes in the oven

to love
to joy
to sorrow
to soft pink roses gracing the dining room table
to crisp brown leaves on the ground outside
to things growing
to things dying

Here in the opera,
here in life,
I know the final cadence is upon us.

Taking hold of the wheel again in tears,
I descend with Maria to the last note of our song,
give up my breath as she gives up hers,
continue driving my car toward home
through a moment of pure and total beauty,
wanting so much to hold onto everything.

© Judy Nilsen 2001

Friday, April 9, 2021

"People: I Love Your"

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting some examples of my work on Fridays in April.
Here is "People: I Love Your."

People: I Love Your

I love your television
I love your disease
I love your ambition
I love your costumes and shoes
I love your freeways
I love your money
I love your blood
I love your home, your floor, your door
I love your computer, your screen saver
I love your outgoing message
I love your book
I love your turn of phrase
I love your mess you leave
I love your animals
I love your snacks
I love your summer blockbuster hits
I love your breathing
I love your bucking
I love your crazy mixed up ways
I love your houses of holy
I love your estimations and invoices
I love your speed
I love your skid marks and screaming
I love your biological creations
I love your scattered precision
I love the way you don’t skip to the end of the book to read the last chapter, the last line, the hurricane come to erase it all, cleanse it all away

© JEF 2020

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"The Laughing Heart" by Charles Bukowski

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am featuring special poems by special poets each Wednesday. Here is a buoyant, defiant piece, "The Laughing Heart" by the inimitable Charles Bukowski.

The Laughing Heart
by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" by Marianne Faithfull with Warren Ellis

For National Poetry Month:

The legendary and unstoppable Marianne Faithfull, still recovering from near-death from COVID, recites George Gordon, Lord Byron's "She Walks In Beauty" to Warren Ellis' music...

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Poetry of Rock n' Roll: "Pilgrims"

To observe National Poetry Month, once a week I am featuring lyrics of rock n' roll or pop songs that also double as exquisite poetry.

For our first installment of The Poetry of Rock n' Roll 2021, let's examine a song by folk singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson. This song, "Pilgrims" was released on her 1987 album of the same name and features a tense, compact study of one's place (and inner psychological topography) in the world as compared with those who came before.

by Eliza Gilkyson

Pilgrims for freedom and liberty
These days you look so clumsy to me
Primitive sailors, quenching your thirst on the brine

Risking your reckless lives on the sea
Crossing the ocean to the land of the free
Oceans could never quench such a thirst as mine

What were you looking for out on the sea
A constant source of mystery
It was a pretty good way to steal your heart from your misery

These days it's harder to stay on the line
It could all be conquered, it could all be mine
It makes me hungry, boys, for a world I've never known

Oceans are easy, so is the land
It's me I just don't understand
Call for the captain, this time I really wanna go home

I know what I long to see:
A constant source of mystery
Some perfect way to steal my heart from misery

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter 2021!

Easter developed from the Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre, derived from the Anglo-Saxon Pagan month of Eostur-monath (which roughly corresponds to our month of April). This month was named after the goddess Ēostre or Ostara who symbolized the dawn, spring, renewal, and rebirth of the earth after the long winter.

Now we celebrate by decorating eggs, a symbol of birth and fertility and new growth, and with chocolate rabbits, since bunnies are also a symbol of spring.

When I was little, I always loved Easter time because my grandmother displayed vases of daffodils and lilies, and panoramic sugar eggs around the house. And my aunt hollowed out eggs, cut a window in the side of the shell, and painstakingly assembled pastoral scenes inside using miniature trees and flowers, and tiny ceramic rabbits to make literal panoramic eggs. But the best part was the Easter Bunny who came to deliver beautifully dyed and decorated eggs in a basket full of chocolate and treats; my mom and dad would guide me through the house with clues as to where the Easter Bunny hid my basket (thanks Mom and Dad--I miss you)!

I hope the Easter Bunny brought you some treats! Happy Easter!

Truth, Again

"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organised; nor should any organisation be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organise a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organise it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallised; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others."
--Jiddu Krishnamurti

"The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear."
--Jiddu Krishnamurti