Friday, May 31, 2024



Interesting things afoot in discussions about the precious craft of writing poetry, an endeavor fraught with personal assessments of what-poetry-must-be . It’s an intense crossfire of what seems like irreconcilable views for some and suffice to say that nearly any side you might take on an issue of trying to “express the inexpressible in terms of the unforgettable”, your bound to offend someone,  be called a fool, dismissed as a philistine, labeled a reactionary kook. It’s a minefield. But lately it’s been intriguing that partisans of different schools of thought about the Highest Art have agreed on one thing in particular, a general feeling of being fed up with poets drowning their poems with first person pronouns. “I, me, mine, my”, an excess of author presence, the feeling of someone talking at you , not with you. No names of offenders or the critics involved, but in a general way I’d like to offer my perhaps fence sitting take on this general complaint.  

It's a matter of "having an ear", a musical ear.
I prefer the ‘I’ of the poem to be a narrator engaged with a world fully outside their senses. It’s composing, no less than composing music. I accept the first-person pronouns as legitimate starting points or anchors, but what satisfies is if the poet concentrates on the perception of things in the world around them and does not use those perceptions for trivial finger exercises in autobiography.. The biggest sin against the art of poetry is the rise of ‘Poetry-About-Poetry’ and, worse, ‘Poems About Being a Poet.’ This is a symptom of someone who has nothing interesting to say.  

I would agree in principle that a contemporary poet is most effective when the language is pared down to the right words for the right image. Prose is the big picture and poetry x-ray, some would have it. But to have poems be hard, solid things, literally objects on par with paintings or sculpture, which was the over all mission of the Imagists movement, is at best a fool's errand. Poetry seems to me the most subjective of the writing arts, one that has inspired unlimited numbers of "schools", manifestos, rules, and regulations and demands that have tried to remake the idea of all poetic expression . Poets are individuals , though, and given a hyper awareness of themselves in the world with minds that work too hard to make connections of people, places, things, ideas, philosophies , morality that wouldn't normally be connected, the need for a writer to access their feelings, their sense of how the world appears and the qualities particular things seem to have --comparing one thing to another and the result being an unexpected third meaning, a new perception--seems to me inevitable.  

Both Steve Kowit and Paul Dresman, my two mentors in my early attempts to write honest poems, insisted that what makes for an effective and resilient poem is craft and having an ear for the right phrase and the right number of words for that phrase, an "ear" as Paul called it. And Steve in particular insisted that half the art of writing poems is in the rewriting. Even if one didn't like Steve Kowit's work, he worked on each poem relentlessly until there wasn't a false note in the piece he was about to publish and / or read.

Friday, May 10, 2024

"Younger than Yesterday" by the Byrds .


Released in 1967, the fourth Byrds album Younger than Yesterday saw the band saw the band having to commit itself to release a record after the recent loss of their principle and prolific songwriter and lead singer Gene Clark. To be sure , Clark's departure is said to have been caused by a money dispute ; he received more royalties than other band members because of his songwriting contributions. Admirably, Roger (née Jim) McGuinn. Chris Hillman and David Crosby took up the loss and contributed high caliber material to fill in the void left by Clark, the result being Younger than Yesterday, which I would argue is their best and most important record and certainly, one of the best and most important studio albums by an American rock band in the Sixties. Clark's absence forced the other members to draw on their own musical passions and, taking their cue boldly from what the Beatles were doing with their experiments, handily expanded their sound far beyond the jangling-folk rock that initially launched them . The harmonies remain without peer, and we saw the very early integration of jazz, Indian raga, country and western , psychedelia and electronics into their musical weave. Smart, disciplined production by Gary Usher keeps this record form becoming a swamp of overcooked pretensions--he was the man who had the job of saying "that's enough". "So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star", "Everybody's Been Burned", “Renaissance Fair”, ""Time Between"-- the songs are first-rate and the confidence these fellows confront all the alien influence and make part of their sound and legacy is outstanding. It sounds fresh, alive, 53 years after its release. The only downside on this disc is the last track on the last side (from the original release) , "Mind Garden"", an unnavigable mind-blown miasma from David Crosby . It was the day, I suppose, when drugs were exciting, most of us working day jobs after school to have cash to buy records from major corporations believed a Revolution was pending, waiting in the winds , and that many musicians and producers, always marketers, thought they needed a song about altered consciousness to appeal to the gullible teen and the witless rock critic. I assume Crosby was sincere in his attempt to get the experience of having a blown mind in song form, but its a mess. I even thought that in 1967, when I was still in junior high.


Grande Ballroom photo by Charlie Auringer

John Sinclair, a Motor City hippie activist, founder of the awkwardly named White Panther Party and manager of Detroit band or two in the mid to late 60s, wrote in the liner notes of Kick Out the Jams, the MC5's debut album on Elektra, that the goal of the band 's high-energy rock was drive us out into the streets and drive people "out of their separate shells and into each other's arms." Summarizing his notes for the band and the disc, he ended with what should have become their ultimate slogan, "STAY ALIVE WITH THE MC5". Stay alive we Detroit teens did, infused with jazz, rhythm and blues and the rawboned wail of guitars and hard hammering drums, and here we are today, guided by politics, a memory of raging youth, an understanding that being an adult is more than getting your way when you want it, blessed or cursed with the knowledge that there are more days behind us than ahead of us. And now the last surviving member of the embattled, legendary and indispensable MC5 , drummer Dennis Thompson, has passed on. There is much I can say about the MC5 specifically and in Thompson's drum work in particular, as I was (I think) lucky, blessed , privileged to have seen the band a half dozen times in Detroit teen venues, dances and , of course, at the Grande, before I moved to California in 1969 as the part of the white flight trying to out run the smoke, broken glass and anger that lit up a previous summer's nightscape. In short order, the MC5 , the Stooges and New York's Velvet Underground invented what we understand as both punk and credibly street savvy art rock (not “progressive”, thank you). The MC5 were a “whole thing”, as Sinclair said in his notes, and the indeed they were, a loud phenomenon, a disrupting Event that made rock and roll a dangerous and challenging enterprise again after the West Coast bands and the frippery from the Brits threatened to make the music a tame and predictable tea party, a safe space of sorts. Dennis Thompson managed the impossible, it seems, pushing an ensemble where all the musicians seemed to start and stop in different places, full of feedback and guitar squalling, attacking an audience with the accelerating, weighted inevitability of an avalanche. He was a definitive if under acclaimed rock and roll drummer, a more minimalist Keith Moon if only because Thompson had the soul band emphasis on keeping the throb, the rhythm, the vibe , persistent and insistent, pushing the MC5 into deeper and further out atonal hysterics while keeping it focused on the prize at hand. Dennis Thompson was part of a whole thing. rip