Tag Archives: blues

After Overdosing on Sean Singer

Reading Discography by Sean Singer in class this month. I was going through his book and also his stuff on From the Fishouse (AN AMAZING LINK TO SOME SWEET HONEY, GO ENJOY THAT SHIT), and I realized that this dude was blowing my head off. HE IS INSANELY GOOD. I couldn’t even hang on to some of the language he was pulling off in his work, but a week later his lines are still rattling around in my head, particularly from my favorite, “Echolocation”:
“Into a dustbowl of annihilation the rotating head/seizes its empire of blood; a storm collapses each/mouse bone as the threnody of rain crushes the air.”
But he also has a Robert Johnson poem that puts mine to SHAAAME because of the line “Doping doping all through the grape night.” LIKE. AAAAHHH.
His knowledge of jazz and blues, travel and history and his exercises in self-persona construction are amazing. So I stayed up til about 2 reading everything I could find on him and trying to soak up his tone and voice for a second. I wanted to try on his style for myself in a piece, so here’s what I came up with. Anything I do pales in comparison to his prowess though–I guess this is just a little shoutout to him for taking my skull on a walk last week. CHECK. HIM. OUT.

After Overdosing on Sean Singer

I close against this cobalt
wall of insomnia,
unforgiving in its grind.
Meanwhile
an ocean rolls off a distant ridge—
slow dope-draw of traffic
to the hypoderm
at my temple, the thinnest veil
bearing the heart’s starved
hypoxia, its
drag and ratamacue.
Meanwhile
Singer slips another
line down the gyri: jazz and
its hawkish homology
making another loop—
he wishes I were an onion
so I can feel his thumb
peel my layers.

Meanwhile
the water trembles
over, too much at the glass-rim,
darkens in ominous polygons
on my carpet—some cartography
of the dreams ahead: jaws
and cheeks and shuttering lids
rising like the hedron
in the eight-ball—what
waits in the smalt-wash
of these indigo visions
and sleepless strokes?
Meanwhile
I’ll theorize about the sounds
the animals make in my walls,
scratching wider passages
through the plaster,
their empires of arteries
pushing work in the dark.
Their bodies will fold
into some appropriate
hugeness, like how
the cavern of my mouth
cradles the bite-bruised
petal of my tongue.

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lists

MORE BLUES POETRY. this is an earlier, unedited version.

How the Blues Die

Bessie Smith flew from her car like an angel
and broke open at the ribs and wrists, died
neglected on the white hospital stretcher.

Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death on the streets
of Chicago, lost in the snow—a thing
he feared in the blank of his eternal whiteout.

Memphis Minnie stroked out, so they shoved
her into a nursing home til her expiration date,
aphasic save for the livid spittle laced to her lip.

Charley Patton became a sizzling collapse
of the heart’s infarction—an entropy of passion
as plaque bloomed like a lily in his ventricles.

Peg Leg Howell burned, corroded by the syrupy
sweet of diabetes that claimed his legs first—
bad sugar crystallizing slow along his thighs, crippling.

Pine Top Smith caught a stray bullet to the chest when
his boogie-woogie spun out of control—he lurched forward
over the bloodied ivories skewed by reckless shots.

Leadbelly escaped every prison except the one
as big as his body: the iron maiden of Lou Gherig’s
shackled his limbs from within and snuffed him out.

Robert Johnson played too far out of hand in Greenwood—
gutted by the barman’s jealous slip of arsenic over his
fifth whiskey, a milky swill of revenge in amber depths.

Big Bill Broonzy felt the cancer coagulate in his throat,
cutting off his vocal flow as he punched riffs into his guitar
and onto the pale, sunwashed porch after morning chemo.

Leroy Carr drowned in the depressive cloy of canned heat—
the crush of drinking to death, while Willie Johnson
suffocated on the icy ash of his burned-out home. Pneumonia

lying heavy in his chest, he hummed “Dark was the Night,
Cold was the Ground” to forgotten streets, careful to still
the chalk-grind of his bones as he sighed off mid-moan.

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another blues-inspired piece (to be read aloud)

i’ve been thinking a lot about the page v stage debate of writing poetry. poetry is great for reading, but the performative aspect of poetry has become more important to me as my friends and i continue to do group readings together at a cafe in town. so anymore, i write with the thought in mind that i’ll have to read it aloud to a crowd that isn’t familiar with its construction on the page. so my voice on the page is more concerned with sound, rhythm, significance of content/message, etc.
aaannnyways, here’s something i pretty much spoke as i wrote it.
it’s also about blues again (I HAVE A LOT OF LISTENING HOMEWORK FOR THIS HISTORY OF THE BLUES CLASS). and me feeling aggressive and placeless in the (in)security of travel and late-night wandering in an unfamiliar place.

Chicago for the Weekend
“I just feel dissatisfied baby, / I don’t know what to do.
Have you ever had that same feeling, babe, / to come over you?”

—Leeroy Carr, “Blue Night Blues”

When I was little, I wanted to be a firefighter.
I got bigger but still too small to fringe the flames
of a burning building, so I stuck with the embers
seething in my stomach and ripped wild across cornrows
and factory fields to this new dreamscape, circling
the streets of this blasted city like bomb-shocked shadow.
Cigarettes drown in the rain-wash of sewers clogged
with street trash and stench, skunked booze
and vegetables cooked to death—
no nourishment lurks here, no satisfaction. I love
the labyrinth of this urbania, the dark fall
of skyscrape on walkways where hooded figures
hulk hungry, weaving their looms of history
into brick-blood and aged iron-cast eaves.
The corner blues-prophet exhales exhausted
lines into the smog, his internal purge adding
to the empty choke of air-waste and endless
smolder, and I’ll moan mantras under his divine
apocrypha, the agonizing rot of dying so
alone and undone in the after-hours—all bound
by frayed gut-string. Oh, hold me slow, hold me hard,
hypnotizing rock of underground bench-beat
rattling subterranean railways. I am not
from here, I know no soft place to rest.
Cold winds whip their cadence of crying
into verses of ice, alchemizing energies
of loop traffic and neon-bright tunnel rush—
yes. I need the heat of forgotten jazz scratching
the vinyl and spilling to the backstairs, the quiet
crumble of the fire-escape parting from the high-
rise. You are my surrogate tonight, my lover
arcing back in some orgasm of blown-out
voice and anxious time. Your sirens scream
so red in their flash down alleyways, searching
for the torturous scorch of my slow jam
imploring the ruby truck to stop by, to deliver
relief from the brutal knuckling of this angry kiss.

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blues is my muse

i don’t know what it is, but i love old country blues. I.LOVE.IT. one of my first pieces in college was an ode to robert johnson and one of my last pieces last semester was an ekphrasis of a blues banjoist.
and now i’m in a history of the blues class so i want to write a poem about every effing lecture. and i’ve also amassed over 500 blues songs from 1924 to the present.
weirdly enough, none of my poems have been [intentionally] in the blues poem form. just poems about blues. guess i should try that next, but it has been so well done by so much better poets that i don’t want to make something suck. TOO MUCH PRESSURE.
anyway.
so this first poem was a contemplated piece, but the second was a piece i edited a little after a 15 minute prompt in class, borrowing the line “let the devil use your head” from Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Blue Light Lounge Sutra For The Performance Poets At Harold Park Hotel.” BEAUTIFUL.

Beale Street Blues

Today I could buy some Greyhound tickets to Memphis
for eleven dollars, but then I’d only get as far as present-day
Beale Street and I’d rather go all the way back
to 1928 when the Sheiks played the Monarch Club
and I could groan along with them about the trauma
of travel and the betrayal of love, a bruise on the throat creeping
along the scale to the deepest blue. Why was every Deep South griot
blind? Why did they all choose the hardest ways to die?
Snorting, stamping, roaming wild with their twelve-strings
and bottleneck slides, they piece together broken folk
and hum gospel til the people move, fingers fumbling frets
for a scrap of cash large enough for the next swig.
I’ll climb aboard that bus, the exhaust like Eucharist
on my lips as I’m christened by the ghosts of rail hobos
and piney top performers, whose rhythmic strumming still
keeps time with the desperate rattle of steel wheels
on blackgum tracks. You won’t know me in the reverb
of hot-drink vision and slack-key tones, but
in the bellow of a bar measure, fluid like the emptying
of the Yazoo to the Mississippi, but strong like cotton
stalks on a hill, nursing a blood-scrawled Delta sunset.

Muse

Let the devil use your head
for a while. Fall down

on windblown crossroads,
your sense swallowed in the slide

of a broken bowie knife scraping
the steel-string fretboard spine,

Notes folding into a space between
scales, spiritual shakes and prison wails.

let the devil use your head
to knock questions against

rotted boxcar walls, blues cries
fertilizing the fields. You don’t recognize

the bones dug up from this silt, the black
grin of a ghost with a story wedged

in his molar made for the groove
of shellac records: a voice of empty

moaning, no place to go—
let the devil use your head,

shave a shank from your tongue
to swipe and swing free of the lumber yards,

and crop rows, no bars to block you,
a rolling strum with time and no tempo

like the rain re-sculpting the furrows—
a banshee loose on the delta-lands.

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ekphrasis–my faaaave.

here are a couple of ekphrastic pieces for class. one is an ekphrastic piece based on henry ossawa tanner’s the banjo lesson, which is BEAUTIFUL.
the second is based on the life and work of david foster wallace. his 2006 commencement speech has been mentioned elsewhere as the inspiration for some of my recent work…i thought delving into his life a little would be interesting as well. i was not disappointed, but i hope my poem does him a little justice.

The Banjo
Inspired by the painting The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner

In this body there is so much pain,
can you hear it? Carried over from far-off
sea-coasts, its name dreaming of a lost lingual
land, the banjo leans into your lap, remembering
its polyrhythmic history. Your fingers find
the long paths of gut and copper, learning
to clawhammer and dropthumb, to strum
the arpeggio notes of knock-down rag ditties,
to pluck tones of the cooleset blues.
What are words to you, what is this song
you stumble to pump through your young lungs?
Against me, you are so small—a warm, beating
body as alive as the too-big organ in your arms.
Steadying the neck like a tiller, my hands
are scuffed leather and weathered wood,
resolute granite nobly crumbling back
into the land that bore me. I will guide you
over heaving seas and rolling drones,
deliver you to the truest tunes. My baby,
open your ears to the yowl yawning
through the stretched-hide drum face,
an echo resonating beyond our circling
of elbows, wrists and thighs—
to that trembling note singing deeper
than the dull twang of age and land,
bowed faces and broken hearts.

Hibernation
For David Foster Wallace

A boy from Ithaca, you knew the white walls
of snow ridges and ranges, heavy quilts
of frozen water weighing you down
as you scissored angels into the drift sides.
You were the best of them, hurling hunks
of ice from rusted car bumpers in the farthest
arcs to the point of exhaustion—burning
deltoids, numb fingers, collapsed lungs.

You followed your father to his alma mater
and aced modal logic, philosophy, mathematics—
they worshipped you. Summa cum laude,
postmodern novelist, they diagnosed you
‘a brilliant ironist,’ ‘the voice of a generation,’
earnest, intelligent, clinically depressed.

Your brain enslaves you while drugs fight
to free you: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil,
in combination with unilateral ECT
(during a two-week voluntary in-patient course),
Parnate both with and without lithium salts,
Nardil both with and without Xanax. What

goes on inside is too fast and huge
and all interconnected for words to do more
than sketch the outlines. You want to stop
moving through your rounds: booking tours
and deadlines, bills and banking—your default
setting of solitude in a sea of humans.

From your window in Claremont, severed
from the manic pull of verbal calisthenics
and the avant-garde—of topping your keystone
with another crown—you have a vision
of a blue hole in a northeastern snowbank
where your body can rest; sleep off the hardest part,
dream, awaken later to tackle reality.

In the sling of your homemade noose, you slipped off
every fear of failure like icepacks pressing
into your skull, hard, cold, too heavy to bear.
It was easier to drift into deeper sleep than
stay awake in the winter of a writer in demand.
In your chest, the language was so barren, so tired.
You saw so little left. You had to conserve.

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first class prompt: REVOLUTIONS

My craft of fiction class is about the role of rap in the poetic context. Thus, we’re listening to Sugarhill Gang and Run DMC, our reading material consists of Jay-Z’s autobiography, and contemplating the metric validity of profanity. HILARIOUS.
But today we studied Gil Scott Heron, a more poetic figure in the hip-hop/rap movement; he’s kind of the godfather of rap (although a lot of his interviews indicate he didn’t like that much). He’s a SUPER COOL DUDE, though. His cover of Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil” is AMAZING. And I love his reading voice. WHAT A COOL CAT.
His most famous piece is “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and we were to write a poem completing the line “The Revolution __________.” I love writing about the backstory of the artist (Robert Johnson, Amy Winehouse, Justin Vernon, and so on…), so I decided to uphold that trend with such a prominent figure in American history in both poetry and music.
BLAH. My poem is kind of forced, I feel. I needed to include 5 allusions and 3 similes. I was distracted by a large stack of Oreos and plotting tomorrow’s run. But here’s the first draft:

The Revolution Begins

Jackson, Tennesse, 1960: you ran out of tears
under your mother’s piano, wringing them out
on your grandmother’s Chicago Defender
like Langston’s prosodic streams:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

You heard the music in Jackson. From Shannon Street
to South Cumberland the blues came howling
like a lost griot’s chant, kicking up the stench
of rusted red gullies and corn whiskey, of sweat-soaked
youths ducking nervously on southern stoops.
With a six-transistor under your pillow
you’d tune in to WDIA Memphis and your bones
would melt into blues, blues, blues. You rode
the dispatch to the South Bronx, Lady Day
and Coltrane blending backbeats into your words
as a black teen felt the bullets bite his lungs and
a black reverend climbed white marble steps,
fingering the wrinkled pages of his dream.
At 125th and Lenox, you talked back to jazz because
there was no going back home—that land had cut down
the reverend and you, staring into the red mouth
rumbling of insurrection and crying of discontent,
tripped along the lines of black and white
keys and dropped your pulse into conga drums.
History got to you like a punch in the diaphragm
and tried to dry you out, made you scream neo-soul.
Like a preacher at his pulpit, you stood before smoldering
mikes and trashed televisions and relayed riot rhythms,
anaphoric anthems asking over and over
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

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poem for a rainy day

Working in the tercet form has been kind of fun this week, but unfortunately I’ve been pretty much unmotivated to do anything significant with my writing or life in general, probably on account of the dreary weather that plagued Bloomington. So, here is my reworking of my apathy in tercet form. I kinda like it, for all its grayness.

Writer’s Block

The rain takes the roads
into its lacquered embrace, swilling
sideways like milk in glass.

My body goes walking
without me, shoes seeped
in weepy water that washes

heat from my feet as fat ovals
of it dagger down my back,
breaking like cold eggs

into my skin. These hollow
hours rush like traffic noise
caught in a gray window,

numb fatigue and stirring laundry
rearranging itself in the machine.
Lately I can’t help but spin

with these cycles of water and wind
unthreading themselves
from the shell-hull of the sky,

my mouth opening with the clouds,
only wet street-sounds coming out.
Words drop and run

like weather on these pages,
bloated and blue with water-rot.
I keep breaking

the lines and forms, but
hands clammed with drizzle-glue
and frigid slicks stick to the sheets,

stopping me up.

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