Tag Archives: music

pop culture seance

i have 2 poems here that are calling upon the ghosts of two major pop culture figures: james dean and bob dylan. i kind of think they represented a certain archetype of their time and age with which i am infatuated, so the tone and content of these 2 pieces is very similar.

For James

You glower ghostly from the projector shroud.
My planchette hands backlit black reach to you
in a cinema divination drawing me down Grapevine Road
at 70 mph, hurtling towards the specter spot at Cholame—
to hell with tickets and portends, angels and charms,
to hell with the red warnings blazing on that fateful day:
the sheen of the Porsche’s engine-hot hood, the collar
of your rebel coat, the label of your last Coke—you
ripped across that ribbon of concrete as the bloody
sunset stabbed your eyelids at skull-crushing speeds
and the Ford Sedan glared through the windshield—
better give me something, give me something fast—
I see you swiveling the steering wheel as you flick
the last cherry spark of your cigarette and battle
the demons twisted into the transmission, your eyes
fixed on the rangeline of dusk and day—a softness
like the final fade-out on the milk-wash screen.

Leaving Hibbing

You found the guitar arthritic in the attic, by
the mahogany Detrolla with an upside-down atlas
glowing on the face as Hank Williams quavered
airwaves and Odetta howled on the up-down strums:
50,000 watts voodooing through the atmosphere.

A country record in the cradle made you different,
deviated topography snagged on the compass rose.

There’s no room to rebel in this weather: a pastoral
purgatory of milk and lilies, snow-stiff flags
on the white-wash porches—what happens to these
nine square blocks when the iron mines shut down,
the fields dessicate and the red canvas awnings clap down
slow in the final autumn? Change your name
to anything, walk anyplace—Supertramp Napoleon,

get in our heads, pin us down. Seek the crossroads to séance
the folkster canon. With a dirt-thumbed copy of Bound for Glory,
you called upon the gospel according to Guthrie before
he boarded the crazy train. Stolen vinyl, shorn hair and hunger
as hard and hollow as your instrument—will you fill us,
make notes tone holy and speak something slanted radical?

Cinderella or Romeo, you can go everywhere
when you’re someone else, and you’re always
bygone and becoming, halloping to the horizon bevel
on the throstle and rise of rock-n-roll, the poetry
of the lemon crate in the gutter, the hum of a green
grain shoot stirred by Minnesota dew.

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Filed under New Writing, Summer work, Uncategorized, Unedited, Unpublished

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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mermaid trimeter poetry thing uh

another prompt for class deriving from pages 1-12 of the poetry dictionary.
the whole damn thing was on accentual meter. so i decided i was going to do a trimeter piece, which i’ve attempted before, nbd.
however, i was also kicking around the idea of a fugue.
a fugue is not a poetic form. In music, a fugue (FEWG) is a technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition. the voices work to interweave, repeat, turn upside down in pitch and all kinds of stuff.
so, poetically speaking, this fails, since music is about polyphonics. but repetition, stanzaic modulation and sonic play can imitate it a little. the most bombass fugue poem can be read here, where the author spices up the fugue even more with the play of german and english. another good one is this, and the author’s audio explanation for how it was made (william carlos williams + markov text generator) IS SO EFFING COOL. listen!!
anyways.
FINALLY, with the challenge of a trimeter fugue piece, i was kicking around the idea of the little mermaid. like, she’s a siren. she’s supposed to sing men out to sea and kill them, but instead (at least in the original story), she gives up her voice and endures horrible suffering for her man and then dies. talk about subversion of female power. no wonder disney took that shit over (but of course, you don’t have a franchise if you have a dead princess).
then i really wanted some balance with six sestets following my fugue progression (you know, divisible by three).
OK SO THAT’S EVERYTHING GOING ON IN THIS BITCH. took about 6 hours of work? i dunno. again, not completely satisfied due to form constraints. GIMME SOME FEEDBACK.

Siren Fugue

Breach the ambient scatter
of sun in wave-washed
depths, where everything stirs
and stirs. Breach the ambient
scatter of wavering song
like stirring sun in your throat—

Cross the white halo
between sea and surface
wide as a cathedral
windowpane, cross
the white halo, wide,
while pain draws its holy

notes in the back of your throat—
love so strong you go
breathless in the mute void
of sound, chords crashing like
notes in the back of your throat,
love so strong you swallow

shallow heat: the crush
of tide-torn beaches
empty of music, only
the love-crush lasting as long
as a tide-turn tugged
by a piercing Pisces moon.

Your heart curls on quick
rhythms of deep dusk-water,
the whistle of weightless air—
shallow heat curling
your heart small as a conch,
empty of music, only

a gasp of your siren song
swimming back to the topaz,
shading down into dark
quays and blue reefs
gasping your siren song
back, seducing you home.

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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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dat old school sheeyit

if anything, i’ll be a firm believer in the mutually inspirational exchange between music and poetry at the end of this semester, as i am constantly forced to use music as a means of creative expression and artistic embellishment. rap music–but music in general, really–converses nicely with the poetic form,especially because of the importance of sonic harmony explicit in music and implicit in poetry.
anyways, here’s an ode to dj kool herc, the father of hip hop.
at this point, i’m also going to have a large collection of hip-hop poetry. weird.

Herc

You were a demigod in the dancehalls
and on the gym floors. Like the hero they saw,
you ruled the ashy blacktop growing weeds
and aluminum posts, surveyed the cliffs and valleys
of Sedgwick Avenue where projects rose and fell.
You were a pack runner with the graffiti renegades
that earned you your ice-cold name—KOOL, with a K.
The sound cuts harder and sharper than that soft C
nonsense other DJs kissed. First it was you and the gray-black
shoe-scuff of two turntables, a dual channel amp
and PA speakers at your sister’s party, your fingers
frightened by the fresh touch of soaked vinyl—
you rinsed each body like a lover’s, peeling the labels
from black-shined faces so no monster could find your flow.
You scratched smoother, soared higher and lower,
owned all over and under the midrange: treble screams
and bass beats, the drowning moment when the vocals
broke and you dropped in like a swimmer, submerged
in the blue-red pulse-flash of rec-room aquariums.
B-boys and B-girls turn and twist together and apart,
like warped chain-links you scale in flight, the fuzz
from choked speakers roaring in your ears. Soon,
landlords will light the fires to clear out the Bronx,
but you already had the heat in you, a flame furled
in your ribs like the new notes of rap that would find
their way inside—you felt the trudge of that melody
bound beneath funk tones and disco, you
needed to turn it up, help some people listen.

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