Tuesday, August 31, 2010


[Here's Part 2 of B.N.'s story The Lost Train - enjoy!]

There are two kinds of spirit, and they are like backward and forward. There is one spirit that man attains in the course of time. But there is another spirit that overwhelms man in great abundance, in great haste, swifter than a moment, for it is beyond time and for this spirit no time is needed.
The Bratslaver

The second time my grandmother visited me I turned around and switched the light on: she was at the kitchen table sipping coffee and picking up toast crumbs with the tip of her finger. She was still a young and deft woman. She wore a familiar blue summer dress with a white eyelet Peter- Pan collar.

What I had learned to appreciate about her was that she saw many things as the consequence of simple over-indulgence. Too much sleep, she said, caused vivid late afternoon dreams, too much salt made people weepy, especially women during their menstruation. In this way life became a finely balanced effort—a thing that could be controlled. Life then required—demanded—attention to the certainties and to the discounting of uncertainties.  In this world cars never faltered. And this struck me as so much blind faith that it compelled my respect.

As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full and he who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, beholds the great shining of the inner worlds.
The Baal Shem Tov

Watching from the window the day my grandmother left Warsaw, she could see that on the street below a crowd was moving toward the train depot.  She always began the story like this: "In the month of Adar, the year 5701, I had just finished a translation of Lear for the Yiddish theater. My rendition of Cordelia was particularly moving. I must admit that I wrote it with myself in mind. But Etka Bloom had that all sewn up, since she was engaged to the director's son.

"Suddenly the city was mythical. A walled city like a Jericho, Jerusalem, Troy—sentry guards at the gates. The shoe factory was confiscated. Part of it was dismantled brick by brick and sent further into Europe. When they sealed off our ghetto, it was actually good for my work. The distractions were cut in half, and the streets grew more familiar each time I stepped out.

"People were ordered to present themselves at the train depot—some were just grabbed off the street or out of shops. This was 'relocation.' The trains departed twice a day and were always full. We had no idea of our destination. Some people said we were going out to the Polish countryside; others said differently.

"By two o'clock that afternoon, seventy-five of us were loaded into    one of the train cars and the doors were shut. By three, the main began     to slowly pull out of the depot. At first we traveled east and it seemed we were heading for the countryside, near the Russian border.

"There were small slit windows near to the top of the cars—no glass and too high to see out of, too narrow to show much—branches of cold winter light grew through them. A man gave me a lift up with hands clasped together under my feet. From the window I saw the snow-covered Polish countryside.  And people shouted: 'What do you see? Can you tell anything?' I said I saw people walking in pairs near the tracks, couples with children, and the children waved 'bye train.' I saw nobody from the window, but I wanted a vision—a picture of happiness.

"The train lurched and swayed on. In the car with the people from the ghetto were three Poles—criminals. One a petty thief, another a whoremaster, and a third a black market merchant. They said we were going to Maidanek or Auschwitz. They had friends who had made this trip before. But our train never went to Maidanek or Auschwitz. It got lost on the way.

"An engineer must have fallen asleep, and never thrown the switch to route us from one track to another. We headed in the wrong direction all night —exactly what direction it was we did not know, just that it was wrong.

"When the sun rose I was lifted again to the window. By now the winter landscape of Europe had given way to midsummer and a full green countryside. About eleven that morning, the train stopped. From all the cars up and down the tracks there were bangs on the walls, and shouts. When the doors opened, we stood blinking in the light. Two young men jumped down and began to lift the others out.

"We stood there next to the tracks for a few seconds. People walked alongside the other cars looking for a familiar face. They shouted: 'Does anybody here know Lena the pharmacist?' 'Aaron the dry goods seller?' 'My wife Etty—a redhead?' Here were all the lost people of the lost train. After a few minutes we noticed what had brought our train to a halt. About one hundred meters farther down, in a field, the track just stopped suddenly, out in the middle of nowhere. There were other people already there. When they saw us they walked out from behind a grove of trees on the edge of the field. I heard them speaking French and Dutch, Greek and Italian—every language. Soon there seemed to be no difference between our languages. We all laughed at our own surprise at how we had outsmarted the world.

"The first few nights we slept in the train cars, but soon we dismantled them and used the wood to build small houses. And we lived that way until the war ended. Years later I heard that Etka Bloom after three weeks in the camp stopped washing and drank her bowls of water—she died after five days. I can act, she always said. But she could not imagine."

I knew the story by heart. Grandmother was always telling it with an air of superiority whenever she met a Jew from Warsaw.

Now when she visits and I look over at her she is younger than I remember her, younger than any of the pictures reveal. Her hair is dark brown with waves that give way to curls around her face. Her front teeth are chipped in an inverted v.

© 1990-present
This story originally appeared in The Gettysburg Review

[Please check in tomorrow for part 3!]

Monday, August 30, 2010


[Over the next four days we'll be serializing B.N.'s short story The Lost Train.  Hope you enjoy it!]


God never does the same thing twice. When a soul returns, another spirit becomes its companion.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
As translated from the Yiddish by my grandmother, Meta Tannenbaum
The world is like a revolving die, and everything turns over, and man changes to angel and angel to man, and the head to the foot and the foot to the head. So all things turn over and revolve and are changed: what is above to what is beneath and what is beneath to what is above. For in root all is one, and in the transformation and return of things redemption is insured. 
The Bratslaver

The first time my grandmother visited me after she was dead and in her grave, I had just gotten off the phone with the mechanic and was standing next to the sink scraping hardened egg from a plate with a knife. She stood by the table in a red dress with a white collar, resembling exactly how she looked most of my childhood. My life on that morning tallied up to one runaway dog (not answering to the name Hannibal), a man named Adam I could sleep better without but needed at the moment to drive me to pick up the car from the mechanic's, and twenty-three fourth grade themes needing grades, entitled: "Me, My Family, and My Community," written on rough woody paper that aged in my hands.

I knew what she would say about this. "From hunger it looks. Can't rub two nickels together to get a dime, you run around like a poisoned rat. After I die everything goes out the cow's ass." She had a way of making sure that everything somehow had her at the center.

It all started with my grandmother's belief that spirits would come to visit their relatives and past lovers after they moved into a new home. Every time we moved, she would spend the first six weeks watching and waiting for them.  So she willed it—a visit to my house in what she called the "country” where western New York begins to give way to Pennsylvania coal mines, a house cheapened by its proximity to the railroad tracks, haunted by high-pitched whistles every four hours. This "country" wasn't the achievement that the Catskills were—a name she dropped out with a click of the tongue—but rather an undistinguished landscape where people shopped at Sears and ate casseroles. Husbands grew fat on beer in this landscape, and their wives put down roots sitting at the kitchen table.

WHEN I WAS a child, the essential chemical elements of death on my periodic table were gas, fire, and smoke. I was terrified of the dead. I thought they were all on fire constantly. Almost everybody my grandmother spoke of in her stories went up the chimney in smoke at the end. And she insisted that the closer the embers were packed together, the longer the fire burned, the thicker the smoke. "The ember that sparks and then comes to rest away from the burning log will burn to ash faster than the log," she said. "When the embers begin to go out, you need to take the poker and scrape them all together so that they will not die down." I always saw them like that—burning piles. Auntie Tal's and Uncle Shaul's ashes emptied into the Vistula River and then were carried out to the sea. At night I dreamt they rose out of the ocean dressed in skirts of seaweed. My grandmother would correct my notions of the dead. "The spirit," she said, "does not do anything willy-nilly. Now go back to sleep."

It was on a trip to the Catskills when I was eleven that I first remember trying to imagine a different life in a more subtle town, a Hanover or an Amherst—a soft accent. My name would be Ann or Katharine, the name of a girl on a beach, like in some movie. My imaginings would begin as I lay on the back seat of the car with comic books scattered around, rereading the good part on page seventeen. "Water, Water," I would moan, pretending that I was in the French Foreign Legion. And after having trudged halfway across the Sahara (in order to forget bad love) I would be kidnapped and tortured for information, but would not break. This was how I began to define heartbreak, bravery, and loyalty.

"Esther, shut up that nonsense," she would say.

At the bungalow colony, six weeks' rent paid, she would saunter along the path to the clubhouse in a big straw bat and a short sundress. She liked to show a lot of leg.

For a while she had been a famous translator. She could render books, letters, and articles in and out of languages the way a dancer changes costumes between acts—Polish, German, English, Yiddish, not to mention a host of Slavic languages. Her landmark translation was a comparative study of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and the Tales of the Upside-Down Town of Cheim. Not too many people know that she was the only Yiddish translator of both Twain and Washington Irving. But she made her living giving language lessons and doing translations for whoever needed them. People would come to her clutching letters from relatives in America, mail-order brides in Latvia, business partners in Palestine. Often she took great liberties with a text, and the changes she made seemed to her only for the better. Her transformations of a text always began simply, without direction. Once a man came to her needing a translation of a letter from his arranged fiancée in Crakow. The woman had changed her mind and had chosen to marry a newspaper publisher in her town. The man who stood rubbing his bald head seemed so elegant, so deserving, that instead of revealing the true content of the letter, Meta recited a steamy, impassioned love letter from a woman who was faithful and impatient.

Sometimes rich people sent their entire personal libraries for her to translate. Boxes and boxes of books, articles, and publications were carried up the five flights of stairs for her to work over. When a bit of religious or scientific material passed her desk, she took a special delight in translating it. These particularly pleased her; to Talmudic material she inserted unanswerable questions and extensive textual glosses. In those days she wore her dark brown hair in a blunt, shoulder-length cut that framed her large face, a style that seemed both too severe and too plain for her features. Her chin appeared square and her face long. She always worked in her best dress. It made her feel more competent, able to alter the world.

© 1990-present
This story originally appeared in The Gettysburg Review
[Please check in tomorrow for the next installment!]

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Photo of the Week 8/29/10

The Oregon Trail Restaurant
Baker City, Oregon    
Wednesday, August 25th
(this week's photo by Eberle Umbach!)

Please check out today's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's the final poem in the A Few More Fold-Out Postcard Sonnets series.

& don't forget: starting tomorrow, a four-day serialization of B.N.'s story, The Lost Train.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Random Saturday

Happy weekend, everybody!  Just a few random notes here:

This spring, Eberle & I were interviewed for the Art & Soul program on Boise Public Radio, & that interview just aired this week.  You can listen to it here
& there’s music involved as well as talking!  Many thanks to Sadie Babits who did such a fine job with the interview & assembling the finished show!

In other news: fire season came late to Idaho, but it has come.  We’re safe & sound, but there have been a couple of fires within 20 miles of us, one of which threatened to burn down the defunct Tamarack resort on West Mountain.  This time of the year, the presence of fire is an unsettling reality throughout the west….

I’ll be playing the Council Farmer’s Market this morning & afternoon—looking forward to that, as always.

& don’t forget: we’ll be serializing B.N.’s story “The Lost Train” starting on Monday & with installments on Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday.  “The Lost Train,” which appeared previously in The Gettysburg Review, is a very good story—B.N.’s writing talents aren’t limited to poetry by any means.  Please take a few minutes next week & read this story right here on Robert Frost’s Banjo!

Also: if you missed them earlier, I definitely recommend Carrie Bardley's latest Homegrown Radio offering & Jessica Fox-Wilson's Writers Talk interview.

Finally: I’m completely besotted with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a great old-time (& more!) band.  I’ll be writing about them more in September but for now, please check out this video of “Memphis Shakedown.”  Anyone who thinks the kazoo is not a real musical instrument, please take note of Rhiannon Giddens’ performance!  & her bandmates Dom Flemons (on guitar) & Justin Robinson (jug) are also top-notch.  They’re all multi-instrumentalists & play up a storm with various combinations of guitar, banjo, fiddle, beatboxing, snare drum etc.


Pic shows Eberle & Sadie Babits during the interview

Friday, August 27, 2010

Homegrown Radio 8-27-10

Happy Friday, all!  I’m back from the wilds of western Oregon in time to post our final song (for the nonce) from August’s Homegrown Radio artist, Carrie Bradley.  I’ll be sad to see Carrie’s Homegrown Radio contributions come to an end, but I’m also very much looking forward to our September artist, Scott Houston.  If you’d like a bit more background about Scott, please check out his Musical Questions interview here.

As a special treat to her Homegrown Radio fans, Carrie has kindly posted the lyrics to all four songs on a dedicated site right here.  I’m very happy about this, because as great as I think Carrie’s music is, I think her lyrics are just as good.  I’m sure you’ll agree!  Lyrics to individual songs may be accessed at the following links:

“The 1812 Overture of 2006 (Neves 2010)”  (this week’s song!)
“Lurking Curve”
“Small Awe”
“Finder of the Owl”

Now let’s see what Carrie has to say:

Well, here is song number 4, and the last. I must not want this great fun to end, because there is a Part Two that emerged late in the recording, and exists half-baked, and now seems rather crucial to the shape of the song as a whole, but is not here. I will just have to spring it on Homegrown Radio listeners in an unexpected moment. Or, oh, next week, as an epiloguey comment...

Speaking of shape, my theory last week that my theme has evolved as Small Things and Round Things mostly holds true--there is an eye/window to soul here, a mouth, an ass, a navel (and the uterus it rode in on)...although the round curved a bit, into the shape of a heron's neck...along with my ever-present subtext of order V chaos. I was working up to that little spotlight that a clown—the one I want is Carol Burnett, at the end of her show, did that happen??—sweeps into a smaller and smaller circle in the dark...that shall be my epilogue!

But for now, thank you for having me, John, thank you all for listening, and look forward to the next Homegrower!

You are always welcome here, Carrie!  Thanks yourself.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Writers Talk with Jessica Fox-Wilson

Jessica Fox-Wilson is a poet, writer, & educator who lives in Minneapolis with her husband & cats.  A graduate of Hamline University's Master of Fine Arts in Writing, her poetry has appeared in several journals, including Poetry Motel, qarrtsiluni, Epicenter & Rive Gauche.  Her articles have appeared in print & online publications, most recently online at Read Write Poem. She blogs at everythingfeedprocess.com

To get some sense of Jessica's writing, please check out the Writers Talk blog, where you’ll be able to read a four poem sequence.  

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

I identified myself as a writer once I reached high school. I struggled academically and there were a few key teachers who encouraged my writing. Their early encouragement also inspired my interest in education as a professional career. However, in high school, I participated in all of the artsy activities – I was a theater-art class-lit journal geek.

Once I reached college, I initially hoped to triple major in Theater, Education and Creative Writing. I realized pretty early on that three majors might kill me, so I dropped Theater, since it didn’t allow me enough free time to write. In college, I met some of my best writing/real life friends, including my husband. I’ve labeled myself as a poet educator ever since.  

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

This winter, I was writing a chapbook manuscript about my recent knee injury and surgery, and I knew I needed a series of poems that rose above my own experience. In my thesis manuscript, I wrote several persona poems from the voice of fairy tale characters or mythological figures to achieve that same goal. (I wrote more about this part of my aesthetic on my blog, in case you’re interested.) My hope was that I could connect what I was experiencing in my healing process to something larger about physicality and female identity.

I started to research fairy tales that dealt with legs, walking, et cetera and found a translation of The Little Mermaid. After re-reading the original story, I wrote a poem called “The Mermaid Loses Her Voice,” which I hoped capture the original’s tone. As the manuscript developed, I wrote the entire arc of the fairy tale as individual poems. The arc of the story served as my structure for the manuscript.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)
If I had answered this question in college or during my MFA, I would have said that my main goal was to publish a book of poetry with a traditional publisher.  As I’ve gotten older (and lazier), I’ve found that I don’t have the persistence for the traditional model of publishing.

For me, self-publishing is a much more sustainable model. Right now, I self-publish through my blog and my Twitter account. Beyond my blog, I hope to one day self-publish in actual book form. I’m inspired by (what I’m calling) the Amanda Palmer of self-publishing, which you’ve mentioned on your blog. Artists should take ownership of the dissemination of their work in the world. And they should get paid for it, if there is an audience who will pay for it.

Now, I just have to find the time and the appropriate format for self-publishing. I’m interested in hearing feedback from folks who have self-published through a POD or traditional printer and hearing about their experiences.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Writing has been the common bond for many of my relationships. My husband is a fellow writer, my best friends from college are fellow writers, and most of my non-writing friends know me as a writer.

I think the challenge of being a writer with relationships is that I feel I have to sacrifice one for the other. There are times when I have to be a bad friend because I need writing time. Luckily, most of my friends give me the space I need. There are other times when I choose to give up a little writing time, so that I can spend time with someone who is important to me. I don’t think I could ever be a recluse-writer because I need those relationships in my life.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any? This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

In real life, my most important writing community is my husband. He keeps me honest and focused on my writing, even when I feel discouraged. It’s a blessing to have someone who believes in your art, especially when you live with him. Together, we participate in a monthly writer’s group, with two other writers.

In my online life, I am a blogger, Twitter user, Facebook user, and general community floater. When I first started blogging, I found a wonderful poetry-prompt community called Poetry Thursday, which eventually morphed into Read Write Poem. I made several good poetry friends there, before the site ended earlier this year.  Since then, I’m floating a bit. I like Big Tent Poetry quite a lot, which was founded by some truly awesome Poetry Thursday/Read Write Poem folks. I also like We Write Poems, which also started from the Read Write Poem community. Hopefully, I’ll alight on one or both of these lovely sites soon.

Without the online writing communities, I don’t know if I could have remained as committed to my writing as I have been, in the five years since I finished my MFA. There is such a great opportunity for collaboration, connection, and motivation through the internet that isn’t always possible in real life.  I can chat with writers in Idaho or India, without ever having to leave Minnesota, and learn from them. It’s pretty amazing.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

Keep writing. In all sincerity, that’s my main goal. At this point in my writing life, the biggest threat to my writing is the accumulated competing claims on my time.  Individually, they don’t seem like much. There’s a job, relationships, and other art forms. But in aggregate, they become overwhelming. I’ve seen many writers lose the focus of their writing because everything else takes precedence. I honestly just pray that I can stick with it.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

My writing would be a player piano, with slightly asynchronous timing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


[L.E. Leone's latest for your enjoyment.  No post tomorrow, but please check back around on Thursday for Writers Talk with Jessica Fox-Wilson!]


The watched pot boils. Steam streams and billows. The whistle whistles—which is experienced by the watcher of the watched pot as a whistle. Condensation beads around the lidded rim, rivering down to sizzle against the burner. The air between the watched pot and the watcher of the pot turns to weather: cloudy and humid. Now the watched pot shakes, wracked with boiling, and the noise, this whistle, screaming. Incredible, it’s like nothing the watcher of the watched pot has ever heard, or ever will. One’s brain is actually transformed. One’s brain can for once be tactily experienced inside one’s kitchen sink, like a sponge.

The screaming stops finally, too late for the cat, which has leapt to its death from a third-floor bedroom window. But the watcher of the still-watched pot is stronger than this. Silence, meanwhile, will need to be adjusted to, changing the brain again—even as the watched pot itself shifts slightly in shade, color, gradually glowing. It begins to tick. Which reminds one, after a time, of a watched clock, or watch. How time itself, like a crumpled newspaper, loses its linear tick-tock nature now, as now in no particular order now it crackles and burns.

L.E. Leone
© 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mad Tea Party Will Move You!

photo by Jonathan Welch
Happy Musical Monday, all! I’m here today to tell you about a band you may not be familiar with but one I think you really should give a listen—it’s the Mad Tea Party out of Asheville, North Carolina, Ami Worthen & Jason Krekel.

First, I must say: I like duos; I spent several years as a musical duo with my wife Eberle & we still perform together some; & I like the uke, & I like good guitar; & I like a band that can go from grungy surf-rockabilly to a lovely, lyrical country waltz in the blink of an eye without anything seeming forced or out-of-place. & I love bands that are impossible to pin down in terms of “genres”—a marketing tool, after all, & not too much more.

The Mad Tea Party doesn’t rely on any one kind of music to get their message across—& more on that message in a paragraph or three. They do use the term “rockabilly” in their self-descriptions, & it’s certainly apt in that rockabilly seems to be their default mode. Also, Jason Krekel, a guitarist who can flat out shred, seems particularly at home with the musical vocabulary of rockabilly. But Krekel is versatile—he’s a virtual one-man band, as he also plays kick drums rigged with special pedals to drive the band; as a guitar player myself, I can assure you this is not easy to do adequately—to do it with the kind of driving pulse Krekel creates is amazing. But his talents go beyond the guitar & drums, because he also plays a mean fiddle—just check out the Mad Tea Party’s rave up version of the old-timey standard “Polly Put the Kettle On” on their most recent full-length release, Found a Reason. This tune is one of the (many) high points of the album: you will never hear the song the same way again & I do mean that in the very best way possible.

Both Ami Worthen & Jason Krekel are composers & singers with talent to spare. Krekel’s voice is strong & resonant (just check out the “Every Way” video below), but he can also deliver a quieter side in a song like Worthen’s composition “Yellow Trees,” where they duet very sweetly on the chorus. “Yellow Trees” may in fact be my favorite song on Found a Reason, but picking just one song & sticking to it after hearing the rest would be hard.

Ami Worthen plays uke (& some acoustic guitar) in addition to singing. “On paper,” as it were, the mix of a soprano uke with Krekel’s heavy guitar sound might not seem promising, but it sure works. Worthen’s a very good uke player who adds all sorts of rhythmic accents to the overall driving pulse.

Photo by Sandlin Gaither
& both Worthen’s songs & singing are delightful & strong. In the press clippings I’ve read, she’s often compared to Wanda Jackson, & there's some validity to this—if you listen to “I Went Out” on Found a Reason, it actually seems spot on. I also hear a bit of Mary Ford, especially on the Mad Tea Party’s amazing 2006 release, Big Top Soda Pop—but, whatever comparisons you might make, the long & the short of it is this: Worthen’s voice is her own, & that’s what makes her a great singer; she can inhabit her voice—it fits her & it fits her music. She has great range & tone, but perhaps most importantly, she has that “other dimension” that some technically proficient singers lack: personality & heart.

In fact, this could be said of the Mad Tea Party itself, which is certainly even more than the sum of its considerable parts. I spoke earlier about “message.” It’s true—& a good thing at that—that much of the Mad Tea Party’s music is about rocking out & having a good time—I imagine they must be a very fun band live (sadly, their tour of the Northwest was in 09 before I knew about them!) But there’s more to their songs. I mentioned “Yellow Trees” before; there’s a mystical turn in that lyric—a love song set in the framework of contemplating death. Now that sounds heavy, doesn’t it? But it’s not, at least not in any pretentious or off-putting way. Also in this vein is their song “Do You Have What It Takes” from Big Top, Soda Pop. Please follow this link to hear this song because I think it’s important to experience this more lyrical side of the Mad Tea Party—both the video songs are upbeat rockers—& also because it may be my favorite song of theirs. It reminds me of something my dear friends in Ed’s Redeeming Qualities might have written—not not so much that it sounds like ERQ, but just in the way that apparent simplicity & light-heartedness can actually get pretty doggone profound. The band's message is a coherent one, it seems to me—perhaps: “life is too serious to be taken seriously,” with full weight on both sides of that statement.

Photo by Scott McCormick
The Mad Tea Party has four full-length albums: Found a Reason (08), Big Top, Soda Pop (06), Flying Saucers (05) & 73% Post Consumer Novelty (all the links are to CDBaby, but the albums are also available thru Itunes—see the band's website). They’re all worth having—the two earlier releases showcase a lot of the band’s roots—which are eclectic & really give an understanding of their sound: everything from 30s novelty tunes to old-time music & more. In fact, they still do some beautiful cover songs—how about a rockabilly send-up of Melanie’s “I’ve Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates” on Big Top, Soda Pop! If you want to buy one for starters—geez, that’s tough. I really like Big Top, Soda Pop a lot, but there’s a lot to like about Found a Reason. I say, you decide—you can’t go wrong either way.

& let’s not forget: the Mad Tea Party also has two EPS: 2009 O Sh*t, It’s Christmastime & this year’s Zombie Boogie.

Here’s hoping there’ll be many more releases from this really talented duo—& I hope they make it back to the Pacific Northwest someday—or perhaps somewhere near you! In the meantime, you can follow them, as I do, on Ami Worthen’s blog, Ukulele Rockstar or on Twitter as @themadtea.


Pix from the Mad Tea Party's Web Site, used with their kind permission

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Photo of the Week 8/22/10

Sign in Pasture in Donnelly, ID   
Wednesday, August 18th

Please check out today's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's the next poem in the A Few More Fold-Out Postcard Sonnets series.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming Distractions – August Edition

Good morning & happy weekend, everybody.  I’ll be off today to play a short set at the Council Mountain Music Festival—delta blues is just not that big a draw at what is for all intents & purposes a bluegrass festival.  But I’m sure it will be fun—performing is one of the things I do best & most naturally.  The pic is me at the festival last year.

In other news: speaking of music, be sure to check out this space on Monday when I’ll be writing about a really fun music duo called the Mad Tea Party.  The Mad Tea Party describes themselves as "a happiness-inducing rockabilly - retro pop - rock n roll duo from Asheville, NC.”  They’re all that & more—guitar, uke & kick drums.  I’ll have much more to say on Monday, but do check out the video below—“Zombie Boogie” from their latest EP of the same name (please note: there is a slight delay at the beginning of the vid—the music starts after the background video begins to roll
—not a synchronization issue).

& don’t forget—one more week of Homegrown Radio with Carrie Bradley.  It’s exciting to have a musician with Carrie’s talent posting new music on Robert Frost’s Banjo, so please come on out & show some support.  Also, in case you missed Friday’s post with Carrie, I’m embedding the mp3s differently now—you can listen to all the songs posted by a given musician to Homegrown Radio all at once without having to go back to previous posts.

On the writerly front: Thanks to all those who stopped by for last Thursday’s Writers talk interview with Eberle Umbach.  If you missed it, you can read the interview here; there’s also an excerpt from the beginning of Eberle’s novel The Sportswoman’s Notebook over at the Writers Talk blog.  Next Thursday we can all look forward to an interview with poet Jessica Fox-Wilson of everything feeds process.  & some more exciting news: We’ll be serializing a story by B.N. entitled The Lost Train on August 30-September 2; B.N. has given us permission to serialize a few of her stories—which are excellent—& I’ll be posting them about once a month, usually over the course of four days.

Also: Alcools is back off the mat!  Yes, there will be new posts on my Apollinaire translation blog for at least the next few weeks, & having finally made a satisfactory translation of "Le Voyageur," I'm hoping to keep the momentum up for the other poems I've yet to translate.  New translations are posted each Monday on Alcools.

In the commercial department: don’t forget my poetry books are available here.  They are currently seeling for $10 each for the print editions, but they can be downloaded free.  I'd be curious if folks are taking advantage of the pdf option, as I have no way to track this.  The books are The Spring Ghazals (poems from 08-10), The Days of Wine & Roses (San Francisco poems from the 90s) & Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo (poems written in Charlottesville, VA in the 80s—my salad days when I was green). 

& speaking of free, remember: you can download the Alice in Wonder Band’s one & only album for free right here on BandCamp.

Hope you enjoy your Saturday, & do rock out with the Mad Tea Party!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Homegrown Radio 8/20/10

Hi folks!  Thank goodness it’s Friday, right?especially since we get to hear a new song by Carrie Bradley.  In fact, Carrie submitted two songs this week—a re-mix of last week’s “Small Awe,” plus a new song called “Lurking Curve.”  Thanks to the wonders of html embedding, you can select any of Carrie’s three songs to listen to on the mp3 player below!

& don’t forget—Carrie’s band 100 Watt Smile has a cd for sale on CDBaby right here.  I’m a big fan of 100 Watt Smile myself.  Please consider giving their cd a try!

& now, let’s read what Carrie has to say about these songs:

1. I couldn't bear to leave "Small Awe" as was, because I like the song but the fi was so low and fee and fo fum...so, on the recommendation of Scotty Houston, I went out and got myself a Tascam DP-004 portable digital 4-track. What a relief. I really like, because though low on built-in effects including EQ (although capable of exporting to Garageband, so someday, when I get my sound card fixed, can go there with it), it's (as said) portable as well as super-duper easy...I loved the interface for tracking, mixing, mastering, and transferring to computer—all very simple. I hooked up a Shure 57 (although Scotty vouches for the two built-in mics) and went! The results, with just a few "P" pops this time to wince over:

2. This week's song: "Lurking Curve." It occurs to me, my theme for this series seems to have evolved as Small Things and Round Things. I won't explicate, but I'm pretty sure the motifs are there for people outside of my head...for example, this one includes an hourglass and a crystal ball and a grain of sand and a wish. I wish it also included a catchy chorus, usually a goal of mine, but not this time—I was rushing in from a couple of days on the beach, which perhaps explains the oceany bits.

Thanks, Carrie!  Hope you enjoy the songs!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writers Talk with Eberle Umbach

I’m so happy to see the Writers Talk series beginning & I’m even more happy because we’re starting it off with my dear wife Eberle Umbach.  The facts: Eberle has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Oberlin College & an M.A. from Johns Hopkins, also in creative writing.  She has had her short fiction published in several literary journals as well as The Whole Earth Catalog (I've always thought that was terrifically cool), & a very generous excerpt from her Weiser River Pillow Book was published in the Impassio Press anthology of fragmentary writing titled In Pieces  (you can read the complete Pillow Book right here on Robert Frost’s Banjo.)   Eberle also served as Idaho Writer in Residence in 1988 & 1989.  In addition, as a musician she has been awarded a number of grants by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, especially for scoring work she did (with some help from yours truly) for the films of silent film director/writer/actress Nell Shipman.  In short, Eberle’s creativity, not only in writing & music but in other forms as well, is truly inspiring. 

To get some sense of Eberle's writing, please check out the new Writers Talk blog, where you’ll be able to read the first chapter of Eberle’s novel, The Sportswoman’s Notebook.  So, without further ado….

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

In grade school and high school I wrote poems that just amazed me by how beautiful they were. In some ways, this has become more complicated over time, and in some ways not.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

I had an unvarying routine for my most recently unpublished novel The Sportswoman’s Notebook - make coffee, sit with my parrot and write in the Pillow Book, then go to my studio and work. I liked having a complete outline written out very neatly, even though I was constantly not following it and rewriting it. As seems to always be the case when I write, one inexplicable image was the start of it and what I kept returning to when I felt lost in it. In this case it was an image that came to me as I was reading Turgenev’s The Sportsman’s Notebook (I’d never read any Turgenev before or since, but I was living in rural Brazil and read ANYTHING in English I could find.) I thought of how the book might be if instead of a narrator who was a hunter moving freely between classes and expressing the dynamics of feudalism, you had a woman narrator/hunter who moved freely through centuries, expressing the dynamics of masculinism. In itself, this was no more than an idly half-irritated thought – but it immediately merged with an image of vampires and other immortal monsters - of Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley encountering in herself the monstrosity of female writing, a doubled narrator - and the image of Elizabeth Bishop who had lived in small-town Brazil with the lover she called her maidservant. The tension between those ideas was what encoded the whole story immediately, in a moment, and I knew all I had to do was unravel it. I think the thrill for me is the experience of being simultaneously the silkworm who spins the cocoon and the woman who unwinds the cocoon into a single thread and weaves it into a dwelling tent. If an image doesn’t make me certain I will feel like that, I know I will get bored long before I find the story in it that is real for me.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

In the years immediately following graduate school, I had several short stories published in literary magazines and felt quite pleased with myself. But I knew that novels were what I really wanted to write. When my first two novels went unpublished in spite of some interest, I was really abysmally crushed though I tried not to admit this (pride not only goes before a fall but comes after it?) I started playing more music and writing less. When I started working on novels again, it was with no illusions as to their probable future. Which was, in some ways, liberating – after I’d exhausted the other emotions. I’ve been working recently with an agent who’s interested in a somewhat fictionalized non-fiction book about the friendships between 19th century women authors that I’m writing and this has been a different kind of emotional roller-coaster than outright failure – sometimes I feel horrified by the thought that I’m selling out – other times horrified by the thought that I’m not even a good enough writer to succeed at selling out – even more afraid of the fact that I’m actually coming to love this book and it’s not really selling out at all. What I’m trying to do now is just stay open to wherever the encounter of writing this way takes me, knowing that that’s the only thing, ultimately, that has reality.    

How has being a writer affected your relationships?
A movie that absolutely possessed me at a strangely young age was The Red Shoes, where the conflict between a woman’s art (as a ballerina) and falling in love leads to her take her greatest dancing role into her own life and commits suicide by dancing herself into a moving train. I also ADORED the ballet in the movie, where a newspaper dances on stage, and an ocean comes right up to the footlights (I was young enough to think these things were real.) But it was the fatal and inevitable horror of the conflict between art and love that consumed me. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I plunged pretty deeply into destructive relationships in the early adult phase of my writing life…and this conflict of identity is still one that gives me vertigo at times. But I’ve learned a lot more about it, and John – you understand this in a way that always brings me back to earth, to you, no matter how far away I’ve gone.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

My primary writing community has always been virtual (in book form) and intensely energizing to me. From early on in my reading life I strongly preferred women authors to the other kind (is literary sexual orientation perhaps genetic?) and in the thrill of 80s fem crit was delighted that I could justify this preference in such an intelligent-sounding way by espousing (tee hee) and even disseminating (har har) theories about the irreconcilable difference between women writing and men writing. But it wasn’t really a theoretical decision – the sense of an imaginary community of women writers that I read, as women writers before me had read, was just this incredibly powerful thing for me. One of the great historic events of my life in this in this virtual community was when I met Audrey – a graduate student in literature – when we were both waitressing in Charlottesville, and our first conversation in that frat boy bar with sandwiches named after sports heroes we’d never heard of was about 19th century women authors and the remarkable happened – I met someone who felt the same way I did about reading and about our literary ancestresses. So we developed an actual friendship within this virtual community and it has been an extraordinary relationship – for 25 years now. I think our dead sisters-in-writing have enjoyed our relationship too; they occasionally appreciate an up-to-date perspective. Ask me about St. Cecelia if you’re curious.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

Honestly, my immediate goal is to write a publishable form of this book of 19th century women authors and then find a publisher for the novel I’m writing now, Magdala Red. More honestly and possible even more embarrassingly I’d quote George Eliot (a sister-writer whose unabashed earnestness at times makes me feel somewhat less abashed about my own):

May I reach the highest heaven.
Be to other souls a cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smile that knows no cruelty,
So may I join the choir invisible,
Whose music makes the gladness of the world!

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

I would like to say an Aeolian harp, or the spangled drum of Cybele and Miriam. But more honestly perhaps, a duet between a student-grade Tibetan prayer bowl and a kazoo. A poor thing, but mine own.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adams County Makes the News - Council Leader #18

The Council Leader
Published Every Thursday by the Council Publishing Company
Fred Mullin, Editor

March 13, 1914

Editor Council Leader:

May I say a few words through your paper on the ever-present topic of conversation now—taxation?

What encouragement have the people of the great state of Idaho to be industrious today? especially the farming class.  The more prosperous we try to make our ranches look, the more we do and try to get of this world’s goods, the higher the penalty of taxation.  Think of it, fellow citizens: pay a penalty for trying to be thrifty and industrious.  No man of honor or self-respect will object to paying his share of a reasonable sum for the support of our government, but when the people of Idaho are paying the enormous sum of $2,300,000 to run the state government per year, I ask: Is it reasonable?  Only eight years ago, $700,000 did the state’s business, and $400,000 thirteen years ago.  Isn’t it a question that there must be an extravagant leak somewhere?

Our county school superintendent had the nerve to get up in an open meeting of the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union at our school house three weeks ago and declare that the only way he could see to lower the taxes in the state of Idaho was to get more taxable property, and I think he expected us hayseeds to believe it.

His talk to us was highly appreciated, except the way he tried to smooth over the tax situation, which carried little weight, especially with those who read and do their own thinking.  And another thing.  It makes us a little sore under the collar to have our county officials get up and tell us—we, the people who pay their salaries—that the only way to make farming pay is to increase the production of farm products, and burden our already overworked teachers with trying to organize “potato and poultry clubs” among our boys and girls, when we already have tons of potatoes and other products that we have no market for, and we can’t meet our honest obligations because we have no market for these products.

If only our county officials and business men who have the dear farmers’ interests so at heart would exert their energy and influence toward getting legislation to solve the distribution of farm products, to eliminate the drones who feed on the honey between the producers and consumers, their efforts would be greatly appreciated—because the thing that will bring about great development of the country school and farm community life, build better roads and secure efficiency in farm production is to secure just returns for the farmer.  This can only be done by proper methods of marketing.

Then we can get our children interested in farming, and we will not need farm experts to do it either.  It is like hitching the horse to the cart tail-end foremost to try to get our children interested in farming as long as they see conditions as they exist today.  And don’t make us the joke of the age by trying to make the farmers believe that all their ills can be cured by greater production, and that we need a farm expert in each county to do it; another tax-eating parasite on the already over-burdened taxpaying people, for about the first thing an expert will tell us when he comes on our ranch is that we will need this piece of machinery and that particular piece of machinery (he will get a pull from an implement dealer as a side issue) to do scientific farming.  A pretty huge joke on old corn-tossel, is it not?  And this isn’t the end.  When the assessor comes around, how he will sock the taxes on us for owning that machinery.

I am only voicing the opinions and sentiments of my fellowmen in this letter, and
do not wish to discourage progress, industry, or expertism, but would be glad, like others. to see a more common sense view taken on these matters which are agitating the people today, especially by those who are in position to help us.
W.F. Buchner
Pleasant View, Indian Valley, District No. 3
October 16, 1914


An incident has come to our attention regarding the use of tobacco by schoolboys, which we believe should be brought before the teachers and parents of the county.  It is unique as far as we can learn as regards the administration of discipline in the schoolroom.  It happened in the Goodrich school a week or so ago.  Some of the large boys there were bothering the school by spitting tobacco juice on other children and by smoking.  They were personally cautioned that the next offense would not be passed, and it wasn’t.  A trial was given them, they were convicted and fined, and this money used to defray a few school expenses.  Of course, they had their choice of paying the fine or losing a number of noons.  If other teachers would touch the outlaws this way, they would soon be good.

October 16, 1914

Over 2,000 cars of fruit have been shipped by the North Pacific Fruit Distributors this season.  This is just 21 days sooner than the 2,000 mark was reached last year.  The figure is significant because it amounts to over half of the total fruit shipments made by that organization last year, which were 3,958 cars altogether, and the apple shipping period, by far the heavy end of season, has barely begun. 

May 24, 1914

Mr. Fred Mullin,

Please do not lose sight of the fact that my subscription to your stand-pat, patent-inside and outside, boiler-plate impression has expired.  Kill it!  Pie it!  Hell-box it!  Any way to relieve me.

Wm. M. Freeman

The above pus runs from a sore in the Meadows Valley that has been lanced—and he wants to represent us in the state legislature.  In the meantime he can borrow his neighbor’s Leader and read it, thus performing his progressive economy.


May 24, 1914

Here is a simple and efficacious way of mending a tear, three-cornered or otherwise, in an article of clothing:
Place the cloth flat on a table and smear a little white of a raw egg all around and over the tear on the reverse side.  Now cut a piece of linen (a handkerchief will do) a little larger than the tear and place it over the rent so that it adheres to the white of egg.  Then get a hot iron and simply press it, without ironing, over the linen.  The linen will adhere firmly to the cloth and will not come off even if washed.  The rent in the material will now be almost invisible on the outside, and the mending will last as long as the dress or suit.

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Writers Talk – Coming Soon!

Happy Tuesday afternoon!  I’m here with coming distractions—yes, in honor of Robert Frost’s Banjo’s 2-year anniversary, we’re starting a new series called Writers Talk.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for some time may remember the Musical Questions interview series.  My blog co-conspirators Eberle & Audrey & I formulated a baker’s dozen worth of questions & circulated them among various musician friends.  The resulting interviews were posted irregularly on Sundays & to date that series has been one of my personal favorites. 

As regular readers know, I’m creatively schizophrenic—I play music in a semi-serious way & also write poetry (in somewhat the same manner, tho it’s more complicated).  So we’ve decided to do the same sort of series, except for writers.  Eberle & I composed 7 questions (assuming writers’ answers may be longer than musicians!) & I’ve been busily recruiting writers to join in the fun—in fact, as of this writing, it looks like we’re booked thru October!  Writers Talk will be posted most, but not all Thursdays.

& our lead-off writer, this Thursday, 8/19: none other than Eberle Umbach herself!  Eberle will be followed next Thursday (8/26) by a new face to Robert Frost’s Banjo, Jessica Fox-Wilson of the excellent everything feeds process blog—so keep on the lookout for announcements, because participants will include both the folks you know well from Robert Frost’s Banjo & a lot of new (to our readers) & exciting writers.

I've also started a new blog (no content quite yet) called Writers Talk.  This blog won't be a repository for the actual interviews (at least for the foreseeable future) but will be a place where the participating writers can post work samples if they choose—not all the writers who'll be participating have a blog or other web presence of their own.  As an added incentive: we will be posting the first several pages of Eberle's novel The Sportswoman's Notebook on the Writers Talk blog to accompany her Thursday interview!

I’m totally jazzed about this series & hope you’ll enjoy it too.  be sure to tune in Thursday morning (US Mountain Time) for our first installment with Eberle Umbach!

Update: In other news, in the believe it or not department: There will be a new post on the Alcools blog tomorrow morning.  Hoping to get back on a regular schedule there.

For the curious: the pic shows (from left to right) Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy & Ezra Pound

“Bird’s Nest Bound”

What if you were so blue you still had the Monday Morning Blues on Tuesday?  Well, figuratively speaking, that’s what’s happening here.  The Monday Morning Blues was displaced by one day by yesterday’s blog anniversary.  But to my mind, the old-time blues are good on any day of the week.

Today’s song is by Charley Patton, & it’s been passed down to us from a recording he made in 1930 in Grafton, Wisconsin for Paramount Records.  He’s accompanied by Willie Brown on second guitar on the recording.  Although he’s not well known outside of blues aficionado circles, Willie Brown was one of the great Delta blues guitarists.  Once Son House (who was also at the same 1930 Grafton recording session) was asked about Willie Brown’s & Charley Patton’s comparative guitar-playing abilities:

House: Well, now Charley…I thought Charley was the best player because I met Charley first, but I had never heard Will.
Q: When you first heard them together who was better?
House: Then I knowed it was Willie.
Q: Do you suppose that Charley knew he couldn’t play like willie?
House: Yeh, yeh, Charley knew it. Yeh, he knowed it, ‘cause a lot of times we’d be together & Bill, he called him Bill…Bill you c’mon play that piece….Charley could beat him singing, but those beats & things, Willie could beat him on that & he knowed it
from Oak Anthology of Blues Guitar: Delta Blues by Stefan Grossman

Patton & Brown played the song in open G, which is also called “Spanish tuning.”  This name comes from the song “Spanish Fandango,” a tune that many country blues guitar players had in their repertoire that was invariably played in open G tuning; for those of you who don’t know, “open G” means that the 6 guitar strings are tuned so that if you play them without fretting any strings, a G major chord is played.  In standard tuning, the open strings don’t produce a common major chord.  My version is done in drop D tuning, (the bass string tuned down to D rather than E) & there’s only one of me, so the arrangement is quite different.  I’m playing my Regal resonator guitar.

Hope you enjoy it & that it drives your Tuesday blues away!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mandocellos & Helicopters

[In case you missed this morning's post, I'm presenting anew - to actual readers this time! - the first two posts on Robert Frost's Banjo, both of which appeared two years ago on August 16 2008.  Thanks everybody for all the great support - we wouldn't be here without you!]

It’s about a year ago—a bit less—we’re enjoying a brief, impromptu visit from our friend Bernie Jungle (his real name), woodworker/message therapist/musician extraordinaire, passing thru on his way back from a wedding in New York state—a truly epic affair where we could have seen everyone we’ve known from a certain crucial part of our lives but for various reasons couldn’t make—so we catch the folks as they head back west.

Anyhoo—it’s August & we’re just back from Portland, OR ourselves & it’s hot of course & there are dry thunderstorms & about half of Idaho has burned up already what with a humungous range fire down in the southeast that lasts most of the summer & all sorts of fires threatening to burn down all the old mining spots like Warren & Burgdorf to the northeast of us, & all the smoke from said fires being pumped every dawn into Indian Valley because Indian Valley draws all the smoke in the summer as if it were a chain smoker inhaling hard (it also draws in the frozen fog in the winter, but the metaphor kinda falls apart there), which isn’t so great for someone like yours truly with bad lungs...

Anyway, I’m showing Bernie this new instrument I have—what looks like a guitar (or slightly larger) & has eight-strings arranged in four courses (i.e., four pairs) like a mandolin? A mandocello, of course—though few of us in the states have ever been lucky enough to get our hands on this weird machine. Of course, Bernie is playing it like he’s played it for years within minutes of picking it up….

Mandocellos aren’t used much in the States—more so in the British Isles—at least so I’ve been told (in the email sense) by Mike Soares' y of Soares' y guitars in Queens, from whom I purchased my mandocello. But back at the turn of the 20th century & a bit earlier, there was a big craze in the U.S. for “mandolin orchestras.” The mandolins (however many they could recruit) would play the melodic lines, like a violin section(s) (mandolins & violins, as you may or may not know, being tuned to the same notes), then there were instruments called mandolas that would take the viola part— & you guessed it—the mandocellos played the cello part. The orchestras also would have a bass & usually a guitar or two for the chords—& sometimes another remarkable device called a harp guitar, which is sorta like a guitar that sprouted several bass strings with no fret board. The orchestras played popular stuff of the day, & popular classics—a genre that died out about 100 years ago.

Meanwhile, apropos of nothing at all mandocelloish, my wife Eberle & I see Bernie out to his Toyota van & see a Forest Service fire truck headed down our (dirt) road, & wonder where the hell he’s going, not realizing that probably while Bernie was noodling beautifully on the mandocello, there had been three lightning strikes about five miles due east of here on the far side of a ridge—& a bit later on while doing dishes & looking at the view, I see columns of smoke coming up over the ridge— & then there are tanker planes & all hell breaks loose as the locals claim the Forest Service kept them from getting out with heavy equipment & digging lines that might have contained the whole thing & the Forest Service trying to answer all these accusations & meantime setting up a command post in someone’s pasture a few miles south…

In the evening the fire is running up to the ridge top & threatening the big new house half way down the ridge, & we’re trying to decide which instruments to throw in the back of the pick-up & which to leave behind. I think the mandocello made the final cut… I don’t remember now… but the fire turns northeast & heads for the big Tamarack resort up by Donnelly & coincidentally becomes a number one priority fire nationally. It ends up burning 25,000 acres but, miraculously, only one outbuilding somewhere along the way…

Why Robert Frost? Why the banjo?

[Happy Monday, everybody! Robert Frost's Banjo is 2 years old today, & as a way of marking the occasion, I'm re-posting the initial two posts, both of which appeared on August 16 2008; the second of these will appear this afternoon.  There will be a Monday Morning Blues this week, except it'll be posted on Tuesday.  Hope you enjoy these two old posts!]

So my wife & I are out driving on this yellow & stifling August afternoon coming down 50 miles & more than 2000 feet from the Idaho pines & the temperate lake breezes to the Idaho rangelands where the heat’s rippling off the blacktop & the landscape is all wilted yellow-purple-brown dotted with gnarly bitterroot & pale sagebrush & U.S. flags & where during the last boom formidable homes sprang up on 40 acre McRanches replacing the double-wides, & folks from the big homes would stop by in August & ask “Where’s the water? There was water on my property back in April when I bought it,” & of course the rangeland is emerald green in April, & temperate, & full of blackbird trills… & all the folks at the big houses buy their scotch pines to plant, because this is Idaho of course & you have to have pine trees, not noticing perhaps that there really are no trees in Indian Valley except aspens & cottonwoods—trees whose shallow roots can find some water above the hard-pan—so the pines either wilt in the summer heat & drought or are stunted….

So we’re driving home—but what does this have to do with Robert Frost or the banjo? We’re talking about the farrago of topics that occupy my mind & whether they have any unifying element—because I’m thinking a blog ought to be about something more definite than what I’m thinking about on a given day; & we’re talking about music & the history of musical instruments & all the anecdotes I’ve picked up between Vermont & Virginia & San Francisco & Idaho & various rest stops in between & maybe some sort of America the way it never was vision out of Capra’s “You Can’t Take It With You,” & a postcard collection that takes up three bulletin boards & a rather large drawer in the old sideboard, & an off-& -on obsession with poetry that doesn’t add up in many ways, since it tends to focus on both Elizabeth Bishop & Ted Berrigan, & she says, “Well, it’s sort of come down to Americana—it’s like Robert Frost’s banjo.”

Robert Frost—the avuncular rural Vermont poet who writes about sleighbells in easy to read rhymed pentameter—except he wasn’t from Vermont (or New Hampshire—for which we native Vermonters can be glad at least) at all but from Baghdad by the Bay as it used to be called back when Baghdad stood for sinful glamour & not bombed-out imperialist apocalypse— & his vision of the world encompasses “Desert Places” & a lonely train ride across Utah & various forms of insanity….

& the banjo—so quintessentially American, though actually not American at all but African—a sort of elongated & 4-stringed thumb piano with a drone (because it seems, the string added later in the 19th century wasn’t the drone string); a gourd on a pole, a slave instrument that wouldn’t have much to do with 3-chord music but then later was transformed through minstrel shows & the early 20th century banjo craze to reflect white America’s tastes in popular music—was then pretty much abandoned only to re-surface both in bluegrass through Earl Scruggs’ re-interpretation of old time techniques & with the addition of thumb & fingerpicks, or in the folkie movement under the unremittingly benign vision of Pete Seeger, complete with frailing fingernail & thumb, or with Pete’s own re-vision of the banjo—long-necked & played sort of guitar style with the middle finger plucking up instead of the fingernail striking down….

So anyway, folks, thanks to my wife—also, if she’d ever practice, a far better banjo player than I am—this is “Robert Frost’s banjo,” & after all the talking is over, & the coffee’s drunk & you’ve cleaned up the last crumbs of strawberry rhubarb pie, this is still me just writing about whatever comes to mind. Hope you’d like to come along for the ride….

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Photo of the Week 8/15/10

Clouds Above the Columbia River,
Maryhill, WA
  Sunday, August 8th

Please check out today's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's the next poem in the A Few More Fold-Out Postcard Sonnets series.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Homegrown Radio 8/13/10

It’s Friday, so it’s time for another segment of Homegrown Radio!  Each Friday this month we’ll be featuring a brand new song by Carrie Bradley, who many of you know from bands like Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, the Buckets, 100 Watt Smile, the Breeders & more!  Let’s see what Carrie has to say about this week’s song, “Small Awe”:

This song was born of a kernel of thought unexpected falling from the hand (or cob?) of a late-night bicycle chat with husband through Central Park...suddenly I was amazed at how symmetrical hair is. That was my start. I laughed; he said, "What?" I wouldn't tell.

I wasn't sure what I had except for a line about "symmetrical hair"...until last night when, during a bout of insomnia, I rhymed "symmetry" with "sent to me" --thereby summing up my whole thought for this tune, if not my whole life.

This track would be nicer if it hadn't taken me 2 hours to figure out my new non-ideal Radio Shack mic—but I promised 2 trax for this round, so they are!  It is a $30 Gigiware desktop mic; more on my travails and thoughts after later...!

It’s a wonderful song—hope you enjoy it too!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Intrepid Prop H8 Reporter Audrey Bilger

Happy Thursday afternoon, everyone!  If you’re interested in staying informed on the California Prop H8 decision, you really should stay tuned to our dear friend & sometime collaborator Audrey Bilger over at the Ms blog.  Although this is ancient news by interweb standards, Audrey has recently blogged about the link between Judge Walker’s ruling on the Proposition & how this is furthers the equal status of women—all women, both straight & lesbian—in marriage.  In a fun but informative post yesterday, Audrey compared the Prop H8 ruling to a gothic novel, complete with sinister villains & happy wedding ending.  They’re both must-reads—not just for our LGBT friends but for everyone.

Because, if you also tune in to hear Dr Bilger participate in a roundtable discussion on PRI’s To The Point program, you’ll find out from the pro-Prop H8 speakers that Prop H8 really isn’t so much about gay couples as about straight ones.  Seems like us straight folks might forget to have children if gay marriage is legal.  Dr Bilger, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick & Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institute provide voices of sanity to these & similar arguments—including the statement by William May, Chairman of Catholics for the Common Good that essentially links feminism to the downfall of civilization as we know it.   Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage also speaks in support of Prop H8 & decries Judge walker’s ruling.

Please give Audrey’s informative posts a read (here & here) & give the discussion (which starts about 7:40 into the overall program) a listen!  & have a great day.

Update: this afternoon, Audrey posted about Judge Walker's decision today to lift the stay on gay marriages in California as of next Wednesday, August 18th.  You can read Audrey's latest post here.