Music Monday: “Not Afraid” by Eminem

I never thought I would say this… but I have been listening to a lot of Eminem of late.

In Eminem I hear the same undercurrents of underclass anger that attracted me years ago to the Clash and Punk music and to early Springsteen. It is raw emotion expressed… rawly. It is visceral, angry, and engaging in a way that completely surprises me.

The heart of a rap music is the lyrics and the rhymes. In reading about Eminem’s music I found that reviewers quite often use language similar to poetry reviewers to talk about his lyrics: complex rhyme schemes, multisyllabic rhymes, soft rhymes.

Deciding whether or not to post a Eminem song here has been a dilemma. The reality is that Eminem’s lyrics are… again raw. He makes frequent and creative use of one word in particular that figures prominently in George Carlin’s list of “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Personally, I do not care. But I know that many do.

What the hell. It is has been a long, cold winter and no music artist has been more on my mind of late.


Poetry Review: “March” by William Morris

A William Morris pattern

A William Morris pattern

I first read William Morris because he was such an important figure and influence in the life and work of two of my favorite writers: W.B. Yeats and Ford Madox Ford. Morris, together with Ford Madox Brown and Dante Rossetti formed the core of thePre-Raphaelites. Morris was the first Pre-Raphaelite to publish poetry.

The contrast between Amy Lowell and the Imagistsand Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites could not be any more stark. Morris’s poem “March” shows the contrast very well: the formal rhyme scheme, the formal language, the embroidered complexity.

The metaphor of “embroidery” is an apt one for Morris who as an artist worked in all mediums including textiles. There is in his poems, I think, something reminiscent of tapestries, or weavings.

March is here at last. Winter is winding down. On the first Friday in March, what could be better than a poem about the end of winter.



Slayer of the winter, art thou here again?
O welcome, thou that’s bring’st the summer nigh!
The bitter wind makes not thy victory vain,
Nor will we mock thee for thy faint blue sky.
Welcome, O March! whose kindly days and dry
Make April ready for the throstle’s song,
Thou first redresser of the winter’s wrong!

Yea, welcome March! and though I die ere June,
Yet for the hope of life I give thee praise,
Striving to swell the burden of the tune
That even now I hear thy brown birds raise,
Unmindful of the past or coming days;
Who sing: ‘Oh joy! a new year is begun:
What happiness to look upon the sun!’

Ah, what begetteth all this storm of bliss
But death himself, who crying solemnly,
E’en from the heart of sweet Forgetfulness,
Bids us ‘Rejoice, lest pleasureless ye die,
Within a little time must ye go by.
Stretch forth your open hands, and while ye live
Take all the gifts that Death and Life may give.’

Poetry Review: “The Taxi” by Amy Lowell

Amy_Lowell_TimeAmy Lowell is classified as an Imagist. Imagist poets, reacting against both Romantic and Victorian poetry represented by such contemporary giants as Longfellow and Tennyson, pushed for language and images that were more direct and precise and a poetic style that was more un-sentimental. In many ways, the Imagist movement can be seen as one of the bridges between the Victorian and Modernist movements.

Amy Lowell was first recommended to me years ago by a woman who knew I liked Marianne Moore. The recommendation was not based on the fact that she knew and liked the poetry of Marianne Moore and Amy Lowell, in fact she knew almost nothing of their poetry. She did, however, know of Lowell from some Feminist History classes she was taking. She found a used copy of Lowell’s Selected Poems and gave it to me as a gift.

“The Taxi” shows all the elements of the Imagist movement: direct language, non-traditional form, the concentration on an image… a thing itself. The first thing you will notice, however, is that even though Lowell died in 1925, everything about this poem seems contemporary. That is what most attracted me to Lowell almost 30 years ago. She seems at times like a contemporary poet.


The Taxi

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

Duke Snider – in memoriam

Snider_Topps--300x212Brooklyn Dodger great Duke Snider, who passed away this past weekend,  played his Hall of Fame career in the shadow of two of the only center fielders in history who could be called better than him, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

Bill James in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranks center fielders this way:

  1. Wille Mays
  2. Ty Cobb
  3. Mickey Mantle
  4. Tris Speaker
  5. Joe DiMaggio
  6. Duke Snider
  7. Ken Griffey Jr.
  8. Kirby Puckett
  9. Bill Hamilton
  10. Jimmy Wynn

Just imagine, New York City once had three of the greatest center fielders who ever lived all playing at the same time, potentially all on the very same day. And if the Giants were playing the Dodgers… well, baseball fans got their money’s worth that day.

Snider made the trip West in 1958 when the Dodgers migrated to Los Angeles. He retired from baseball after the 1964 season. He was the first of the three great center fielders to retire… but he was the last of the three to be voted into the Hall of Fame. It took him 10 years on the ballot to get inducted. One of the great travesties of Hall of Fame voting. It was just Snider’s bad luck that he had to play at the same time in the same city with Mays and Mantle.

Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer writes a wonderful profile of Snider. Of the prominent players of those great Brooklyn Dodger Teams (Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges), Snider was the last living one. His passing is the end of an era, for New York baseball fans (real ones NOT Yankee fans), for all baseball fans.

requiescat in pace Duke Snider.

21 Days

Would the Duke have given in so easily?

Would the Duke have given in so easily?

On February 6th, with all the noble intentions of the naif, I posted here that I was making my FaceBook account officially inactive. Twenty-One days later, on this past Sunday, I caved into the pressure of technological modernity and made it active again.

When I made the decision to make it inactive – not terminated – I knew that at some point I would be reactivating it. I had just thought that it would be much further down the road. O the best laid plans of mice and men….

What happened?

Progress and a new world.

I was missing too many messages. I did not realized how many people use FaceBook as their primary form of communication, their only form of communication… more than email, certainly more than the phone. By making my FaceBook account inactive, I found myself suddenly out of the loop on many things. Even some that I care about.

So three weeks later, here I am. Still confounded by the whole FaceBook/Social Media thing, still suspicious of something so ubiquitous, still mystified by what people feel compelled to “share”… caving in, inevitably it seems, to a new reality that I know I may never make peace with.

Introvert or not… social media is here to stay. Whether I want it to be or not it seems that I have no choice, I must participate in some way.

And so dear reader, you can find me on Facebook again…just please don’t say I told you so ANDplease don’t poke me.

Music Monday: “Long, Long Time” by Pat McLaughlin

In the early 1980′s, my friend Bob was living and going to school in Nashville. When I was living in Chicago and Michigan I would hop on the Greyhound and go down to visit him. The change in culture and climate was wonderful.

Nashville was a great town: good food, nice people, and great music. All those studio musicians and songwriters needed places to play. It seemed like every place we went there was an excellent singer or band.

My favorite was Pat McLaughlin. Whenever I was in town we went to hear him play. I had a couple of his LPs and put them all onto cassettes that I wore out over the years traveling and bumming around the South and later Montana.

“Long, Long Time” is an old favorite of mine. The video is just an excuse by someone to get a great song out into the world again. That’s alright. When I hear the song I close my eyes anyway and imagine that I am young again, in a smokey bar in Nashville, and outside it is warm and humid,….

On the last day of February, it seems like the perfect song.


On the Yankees and Other Crimes Against Humanity

Believe it or not: Teams like Kansas City could once keep their great players

Believe it or not: Teams like Kansas City could once keep their great players

Baseball, once the acknowledged “National Pastime,” continues to decline in television ratings, attendance, and influence. As a baseball fan, I am told by sports commentators like Bob Costas that I should be angry at the players who “cheated” the game by using steroids. These self-styled “baseball traditionalist” say that steroids and human growth hormones hurt the integrity of the game, contributing ultimately to competitive imbalance and a decline of interest in the game.

Personally, I think the late George Steinbrenner and the Yankees have done more harm to the game of baseball and the integrity of the game than Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Rafael Palmiero ever could.

The game of baseball is worse in 2011 than in 1991 because the current rules of baseball financing allow teams like the Yankees to begin each year with a decidedly unfair advantage over teams like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Oakland…. At best, the Yankees begin each year truly competing against only one other team, the Red Sox.

Each year in the NFL, all teams (with the exception of the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns) have an equal chance of being in the Super Bowl. That is one of the reasons that football has become the most popular sport in the United States. The basis for football’s balance and success is rooted in its revenue sharing.

It is time for baseball to take a few lessons from the NFL and fix itself before it is too late. Below is my four-step solution for fixing baseball and returning competitive balance and integrity to the game.

  1. All local and national television and radio revenue for all baseball teams should go into one pot to be divided equally between all teams
  2. All stadium revenue (tickets, suites, seat licenses, advertising…) for all baseball teams should go into one pot to be divided equally between all teams
  3. All licensed apparel sales for all baseball teams should go into one pot to be divided equally between all teams
  4. George Steinbrenner’s name should be stricken from all baseball reference books and baseball histories and all Yankee victories since 1991 shall have an asterisk placed next to them acknowledging their dubious nature

This simple plan would restore overnight competitive balance to baseball, integrity to the game, and once and for all get Yankee fans to sit down and shut-the-hell-up. What, I ask you, could make the world a better place than that?

Book Review: “The Fabulous Clipjoint” by Fredric Brown

“Hardboiled crime fiction is a literary style distinguished by an unsentimental portrayal of crime, violence, and sex”

Fredric Brown wrote hundreds of science fiction and detective stories for pulp magazines like Black MaskThrilling Detective, andWeird Tales… he wrote screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock… he even had his stories adopted for Star Trek. But the most important thing you really need to know about Frederic Brown is that he was Mickey Spillane’s favorite writer.

The Fabulous Clipjoint was Brown’s first novel. In it, everything Brown learned over the years writing for various pulp magazines comes together beautifully to help him create the perfect hardboiled novel. In tone, attitude, and direction it is a noirmasterpiece.

When 18-year-old Ed’s alcoholic father is found dead in a Chicago alley, the suspects are many: his drunk and mean step-mother, his over-sexed and over-developed younger step-sister, local gangsters and criminals, out-of-state gangsters and criminals. Together with his Uncle Am, Ed unravels the “mystery” of his father’s life and death while becoming a detective and a man.

The writing is taut… crafted and honed to a fine edge. The atmosphere is pure noir. It is Chicago: rough and dirty and brass-knuckled. The characters are real, three dimensional… at once familiar, original, and unforgettable. Above all the story is a “cracking good yarn”: suspenseful, dramatic, moving.

For many reasons, hardboiled fiction still does not get the literary attention it deserves. In the year Fredric Brown published The Fabulous Clipjoint, 1947, Robert Penn Warren’s  All the King’s Men won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The following year James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific won it. Both are fine works. But neither can hold a candle to what Fredric Brown accomplishes in The Fabulous Clipjoint.

Poetry Review: “Baseball and Writing” by Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore throwing out the first pitch 1968

Marianne Moore throwing out the first pitch 1968

Marianne Moore  was a voracious reader. This encyclopedic nature of hers is at the heart of why she is a difficult poet. She brings more to a poem than any other poet and hence asks more of her readers than any other poet.

“Baseball and Writing” is one of my favorite Moore poems. When I wrote my own series of baseball poems called “Baseball Cards” I had this poem in the back of my mind… among some others.

In 1968, Moore threw out the first pitch of the year at Yankee Stadium. As any baseball fan knows, 1968 was Mantle’s last year in baseball. The Yankee roster she was looking at that day in 1968 is a far cry from the roster she features in her poem, “Baseball and Writing.”


Baseball and Writing

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement–
a fever in the victim–
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
To whom does it apply?
Who is excited?Might it be I?

It’s a pitcher’s battle all the way–a duel–
a catcher’s, as, with cruel
puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
back to plate.(His spring
de-winged a bat swing.)
They have that killer instinct;
yet Elston–whose catching
arm has hurt them all with the bat–
when questioned, says, unenviously,
“I’m very satisfied.We won.”
Shorn of the batting crown, says, “We”;
robbed by a technicality.

When three players on a side play three positions
and modify conditions,
the massive run need not be everything.
“Going, going . . . “Is
it?Roger Maris
has it, running fast.You will
never see a finer catch.Well . . .
“Mickey, leaping like the devil”–why
gild it, although deer sounds better–
snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest,
one-handing the souvenir-to-be
meant to be caught by you or me.

Assign Yogi Berra to Cape Canaveral;
he could handle any missile.
He is no feather.”Strike! . . . Strike two!”
Fouled back.A blur.
It’s gone.You would infer
that the bat had eyes.
He put the wood to that one.
Praised, Skowron says, “Thanks, Mel.
I think I helped a little bit.”
All business, each, and modesty.
Blanchard, Richardson, Kubek, Boyer.
In that galaxy of nine, say which
won the pennant?Each.It was he.

Those two magnificent saves from the knee-throws
by Boyer, finesses in twos–
like Whitey’s three kinds of pitch and pre-
with pick-off psychosis.
Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch your corners–even trouble
Mickey Mantle.(“Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher, Montejo!”
With some pedagogy,
you’ll be tough, premature prodigy.)

They crowd him and curve him and aim for the knees.Trying
indeed!The secret implying:
“I can stand here, bat held steady.”
One may suit him;
none has hit him.
Imponderables smite him.
Muscle kinks, infections, spike wounds
require food, rest, respite from ruffians.(Drat it!
Celebrity costs privacy!)
Cow’s milk, “tiger’s milk,” soy milk, carrot juice,
brewer’s yeast (high-potency–
concentrates presage victory

sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez–
deadly in a pinch.And “Yes,
it’s work; I want you to bear down,
but enjoy it
while you’re doing it.”
Mr. Houk and Mr. Sain,
if you have a rummage sale,
don’t sell Roland Sheldon or Tom Tresh.
Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium.
O flashing Orion,
your stars are muscled like the lion.


Life Distilled

T.S. Eliot Reading

T.S. Eliot Reading

One the many things I have collected over the years is quotes about poetry and poets. For years, I used to keep and record my favorite quotes about poetry in a leather-bound journal that I received as a gift. Now I keep and record them electronically. It is much easier to do it that way, though admittedly much less… romantic….

On the last “hump-day” in the longest February in memory, here are just a few of my favorites. I hope you find a few you like and maybe a few new ones for your own collection.

Quotes on Poetry and Poets

Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.  ~W.B. Yeats

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.  ~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.  ~John Keats

Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.  ~Samuel Johnson

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.  ~Robert Frost

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.  ~T.S. Eliot

Poetry is life distilled.  ~Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself.  ~Carl Sandburg

There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.
~Robert Graves

Poetry is not a civilizer, rather the reverse, for great poetry appeals to the most primitive instincts.  ~Robinson Jeffers

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.  ~Wallace Stevens

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.  ~Paul Valéry

It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.  ~W.H. Auden

What is a Professor of Poetry?  How can poetry be professed?  ~W.H. Auden

To have great poets there must be great audiences too.  ~Walt Whitman

The true poet is all the time a visionary and whether with friends or not, as much alone as a man on his death bed.  ~W.B. Yeats