Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I have been reading and re-reading Late for Work by David Tucker. The book is, in a sense, a collection of procrastinations, never-happened-but-what-if-it-hads, and nothing-has-happened-but-something-else-kind-of-dids. My intention was to review the book in its entirety a full two months ago. But the entropy of life has kept me staid. In reading and savoring Late for Work I think this indolence a fitting appreciation of Tucker’s “putting everything off” aesthetics.

While the humor in Tucker emerges from his musings on wasting time, the darker resonances come from matter-of-fact reports about how things happen: the breathy “oh” of a loved one, a boy forgetting the jacket he wore before taking a beating from his father, and the odd greenery the sick and dying call to mind for those in audience.

Tucker’s matter of fact tone and style enables him to handle memory and flashback with all the flare of a competent storyteller. But what I like most in Tucker’s voice is his understated, unsentimental sentiments. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about several of his poems, but in particular I found myself thinking about his poem, That Day.

Many of us have sick or dying parents—the last place we tend to reach for is our own sadness as that would make us self-indulgent and do a disservice to the parent we love. In That Day the poem moves the reader along an emotional arc that we all bank around when feeling our way through the long term illness of our loved ones.

In That Day the poem spends so much time lavishing in its “nothing day” that the reader falls prey to the same languor allowing the reader, perhaps, their own reverie of their own once-healthy mother to flood the plains of their imagination. The poem, so specific to the boy and his mother, makes vivid a defining moment and yet the details of the shortcut, the sack of groceries, even the flushed quail are common enough to trigger the repose that opens memory to its heart.

Of course such ravishings of memory must be undercut or we fall prey to the snickering of our own cynicism and here is the magic of Tucker: without falling prey to cynicism he finds a way through thickets of emotional snags without letting the poem or the reader slip over the edge into an unrestrained, undifferentiated mess. In That Day the poem slides the mother’s illness into the reverie—slides the future into the past.

Here is the poem…

That Day

It happened long ago.

--“Encounter,” Czselaw Milosz

Walking back from town they somehow missed

the logging road that makes a shortcut to their house

and now they are vaguely lost – the mother and her son

on an evening near Christmas in 1960, but they know

the road is close by and that they’ll find it soon.

The mother sings some song we can’t quite hear anymore

as she carries a sack of groceries on one arm

while the boy wades around her. Kicking the dry leaves.

Halfway down a hill, a quail whirs up from a thicket,

the wingbeats fan the boy’s hair as he grips

his mother’s hand and turns to watch the bird disappear

into the woods. A calm nothing day. It happened long ago.

In a few years his mother will begin hearing voices,

first at night, then all day. She will be committed

to an asylum in Nashville and it will seem that nothing

can bring her back to ordinary life. Then, after twenty years

of doctors and drugs and nothing working, a calm will descend

slowly, as if on its own, and she will become her old self again,

only sharper, wittier—like one lost a long time who at last finds

the wide road home. But it’s all still far off as they walk

to the house and to supper on that evening in 1960,

the boy happy, the mother singing as they found their way

to a future they wouldn’t believe, even if I told them.

When I think of my own mother’s battles with her own illness over the last twenty years, on account of Tucker’s poem I’m afforded the invaluable luxury of returning to images of her from when I was in Kindergarten, she in her black and white horizontal striped sweater, her Jackie Kennedy hairdo, touchdown Jesus in the background as we walk across the mall of the university. Her holding my hand, and we are off to the dentist…a place I hate more than anywhere else in the world; a place I would only trust my mother to take me. Of course this is just one memory of her in her healthy vibrant youth—but it is a recollection that I would not have had if it were not somehow permitted me by the imaginative compass of the poem That Day by Tucker.

While not brave enough to write poems like Tucker myself, I find myself grateful that Tucker’s inimitable, simple, putterings and loafings held me still long enough to call forward what I otherwise might have set aside.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Joe Wenderoth at Bistro 33 in Davis

Joe Wenderoth appeared at Bistro 33 in Davis, California to read for an extended period of time.

Hosts Andy Jones and Brad Henderson kicked things off with a few poems of their own, and then Wenderoth started out singing some down home blues songs (accompanied by Jason Morphew) and finished off his musical set with a semi-derisive (yet still reverent to big Hank) rendition of "I Saw the Light."

Wenderoth then read a long and involved piece about Tony's, a strip bar in Baltimore, that features some unusual fare in contemporary stripping. The emphasis at Tony's is on the strippers' not titillating the patrons but invoking schadenfreude.

He then proceeded to read several selections from what was hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the notable books of 2000 (a fact that Wenderoth disputed), namely, Letters From Wendy's. The central project of this book is that Wenderoth composed each one of his entries on a customer comments card at a Wendy's restaurant. The book is the sum total of his efforts at "improving" Wendy's for future customers. Wenderoth expertly reads selections from Letters to Wendy's, and if you close your eyes, you can almost see him briefly lick his lips when he delivers one of his drop-dead funny, tongue-in-cheek lines.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

THE GREAT AMERICAN PINUP READING Tuesday Nov. 28 in Sacramento, CA

Every once in a while, one finds one’s name in the spotlight.

Such was the case in Sacramento, CA on Nov. 28 that The Great American Pinup assembled, with live bodies and with disembodied voices. David Koehn, Victor Schnickelfritz, and Shawn Pittard appeared before a brave crowd who weathered the second and coldest night of what was described as an “arctic blast.” Geraldine Kim fell prey to a virus (as did Matthew Schmeer’s voice on several pieces that were played). Richard Jeffrey Newman as well as Schmeer were featured via recorded voice.

Victor was the host of the evening and after briefly rehearsing the history of the two-year-old blog and what it has endeavored to achieve over that time, he read the opening piece of the evening entitled ”Wonder”.

Then Matthew Schmeer’s “accountant” picture floated above the crowd like an avenging ghost while his voice was heard reading: “Raisin Ode,” ”Waiting,”“Poemsauce,” “Outside Banning, California,” “Driving My Mother to Her Grave,” and ”1-800.”

Victor read two more poems that illustrated his interest in merging the spoken voice with the singing voice that “quotes” pop songs and other varieties of song, similar to the way selected lines of verse were sampled in poems written in the past when persons, who kept many lines in their heads, would recognize them. The first one, ”Ohrwurm” referenced Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Agua de Beber” and the second one, “Tent of Maybe, Dream of Home” referenced an obscure Paul Simon song entitled “The Teacher.”

David Koehn then read from his re-released chapbook of poems called Coil. In one of these poems he attempted to “jump the crowd” (see below) in describing how one fishes with a net.

Then, like a latter-day Bob Dylan, Koehn switched to his “electronic set” and read a poem of his that was so new it had not yet been transferred to paper.

Then the soulful baritone voice of Richard Jeffrey Newman hovered in the chill air as it went through ”Because”, “After Saying Goodbye to You Three Times in Three Days,” “Dear Yoon,” “Dear Ji-in,” “After Dancing in the Diana Nightclub with a Woman My Friend Paid For Against My Wishes,” and ”The Silence of Men”.

Shawn Pittard finally rounded off the evening by reading from his Oct. 24, 2006 post about Robinson Jeffers. He explained how The Great American Pinup has been a venue where he has taken great pleasure in exploring what he had to say before he knew what that was. Then he read the poem that is found on the Oct. 24, 2006 post by Jeffers entitled, “Birds and Fishes.” At long last, wishing every one in the audience a speedy recovery from their frostbitten tissues, he read a poem that had been inspired and influenced by the Oct. 24 post.

The crowd shuffled their feet to get their circulation going, and the hope was that fond thoughts of the evening would continue to circulate through the dark of the Sacramento night and through the interstices of the world wide web.