Thursday, April 30, 2009

An Ode To The Close Of Poetry Month

This won’t really be as much of an ode as it will be a list. But tell me, what sounds more poetic? An ode to poetry month, or a list to poetry month. Thank you.

I’ve been rather absent from this space this month (let me haven’t noticed), but I’ve been busy with National Poetry Month activities. And now that April is coming to a close, I hope to have more time to devote to blogging.

After writing my brilliant “Roses are red” poem to begin the month, and having it favorably critiqued by a real live Ph.D. of English professorology (even if she was just being polite *ahem*), I knew I had to do more. I had to make the month count.

So. Here, in no particular order, are a few of the myriad ways I’ve been celebrating, promoting, and ode-ing National Poetry Month.

• Gently nudged everyone with whom I came in contact to begin pronouncing it “poh-emm” instead of “pome.” (This act cost me serious Guy Points.)

• Attempted to spend the entire month rhyming my activities as I went about the business of my day. Therefore, I haven’t eaten any oranges, or sat on any sofas, or purchased any items that were silver or purple.

• Drew up a set of plans to build a mending wall, being careful to ask what I’d be walling in. Or walling out. And to whom I was like to give offense. The project is still in blueprint stage.

• Met a guy on the street named Sam, and invited him over for some green eggs and ham.

• During my walks around the village, I approached everyone I saw and asked, “How do I love thee?” which got me dozens of confused stares, two threats with garden shovels, and one marriage proposal.

• Began writing my own original poem called, “Jabberwookie,” but decided against finishing it for fear of legal action from George Lucas. And Lewis Carroll.

• Met a girl on the street from Nantucket, and invited her over for some green eggs and ham as well.

• Attempted to use the term “iambic pentameter” at least three times a day. This is not an easy task in standard barroom conversation.

• Sounded my barbaric yawp through the village, and was promptly cited for a noise violation. (The price we pay sometimes in the name of art.)

• Stayed up until midnight one dreary night, and as I looked outside I pondered. I hadn’t eaten much that day so I was rather weak...and weary.

• Stumbled upon two roads that diverged in a wood, and took the one more traveled. And you really hasn’t made much of a difference.

So tell did you spend your National Poetry Month?


“The greatest poem is not that
which is most skillfully constructed,
but that in which there is
the most poetry.”
— L. Schefer

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Random Bits Of Peopleness

“A Lions fan?!”

That was the greeting I received today as I walked into a local restaurant after spending part of the day with my parents, the manager spotting my lined windbreaker as he held the door open for us to get in out of the cold Arctic (April!) wind.

“Yeah,” I chuckled, covering my hands over the white letters stitched with a shiny silver border on the blue background of the jacket. “I guess maybe I advertise it a little too much,” I joked. “Maybe I shouldn’t, huh?”

“I didn’t even know those existed!” he said, as we shuffled through the entry.

As I got up to the host’s station to request a table, my dad leaned back and said to my antagonist, “It was a rough year last year.” (My dad’s not a Lions fan, by the way, so he said it with a grin.)

And before I could hear the reply I was in a conversation with the host. But when we were seated at our table, my dad told me his response was, “It's been a rough decade.”

True, but...

It’s not anything I haven’t heard many times, and I suppose by wearing the clothes or the hats or the hopeless expression of desperation, I invite those comments. And I’m OK with that.

— • — • —

We got to the table and our waiter came to take our drink order, and mentioned something about the specials being Miller Lite and another beer I don’t remember, but I was hoping they’d have a bottle of the New Glarus Crack’d Wheat that I haven’t tried yet, so I asked.

“Nope,” he said. “We have Spotted Cow.”

“I’ll take one of those,” I said.

“How old are you?” he asked, clearly suspicious that a guy of my advanced age who came in to eat with his parents on a Sunday night might possibly be underage.

Certain he was kidding, I answered, “Um...I’m 19.”

“Can I see some I.D.?” was his next question, and while I was enjoying this bit of banter, a slight pause arose in the conversation that made me ask...

“Are you serious?”

He nodded his head and said yes.

“Suuure!” I said, reaching for my wallet, always eager to accommodate anyone looking for proof that I’m really a thousand years older than they think I might be.

He looked at my I.D. and was shocked.

“Nooo!! There’s no way you’re a ’69!”

“Uhhh, yep! I am!” I leaned over and patted my hand on my dad’s shoulder. “I have witnesses!” I laughed.

“Wowww, I would’ve......never would’ve look young!! Doesn’t he look young?? I graduated from high school in ’69!” he exclaimed as he walked away to fill our drink order of two alcoholical beers, one of which...yes, was mine. (score!)

After a line like that, my mom couldn’t resist (and I don’t blame her). “He acts young, too!” she giggled before he was out of earshot.

True, but...oh, never mind.

— • — • —

The topper of my night came when I stopped at the grocery store on my way home, and as I was in line checking out a few items, my brain whirring to gather these conversations so I could spit them back out here, the checkout girl waited for my slip to print.

If you pay with a debit or credit card, your name and information is printed on the receipt, and this store must have a policy of all the checkers calling you by name as you leave. So I’ve heard, “Thanks, Gregg...have a good night,” many times when I’ve shopped there.

But tonight was different. Of course it was, it had to be. She must’ve known I have a blog, and that I was coming home to write about odd bits of conversation. Because tonight I heard...

“Thanks, Mr. Nohhv-chek. Have a good night.”

OK, that last part I’m fine with because I hear it all the time, so I don’t even blink. But...



Did I hear “mister”?

I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that I’m THIRTY-nine and I got carded tonight?? Whoo hoo!!

That’ll carry me through my Monday.

“It is critical that parents and other trusted adults
initiate conversations with kids about underage drinking
well in advance of the first time they are faced
with a decision regarding alcohol.”
—Xavier Becerra

(whew! I’m so glad I had discussions about underage drinking some TWENTY years ago, so I’d be ready to smoothly and calmly handle the situation I found myself in tonight.)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Fine Saturday Companion

About a year and a half ago, I wrote on this blog that when Garrison Keillor came back through Wisconsin, I’d be in his audience.

I’d just attended a book tour event down in Milwaukee for his latest Lake Wobegon novel, and had quickly become a fan of his columns that I’d been reading for a few months prior, at the suggestion of a buddy of mine.

Saturday night, he brought his popular public radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for a live broadcast and an encore performance, and my parents and I had tickets for the encore performance, as the live show must have sold out long before I even knew he was coming for a visit.

Prairie_Home_Companion “A Prairie Home Companion” is part monologue, part humor skit, part musical act. Keillor and his group of actors, and one very busy sound effects person, moved around on a stage decorated only with mic stands and copy stands, a piano and a drum set, and the facade of an old two-story farmhouse in the background, a dim light shining through its dirty bay windows, and another light on the tiny front porch.

The show has been on the air since 1974, with a two-year hiatus in the late 1980s. It’s heard by more than 4 million people each week on almost 600 radio stations, and abroad on America One and the Armed Forces Networks.

On the show’s Web site, Keillor says, “When the show started, it was something funny to do with my friends, and then it became an achievement I hoped would be successful, and now it’s a good way of life.”


Keillor’s sometimes odd mannerisms are part of his charm, as he’ll often sit with his eyes closed as he tells a story or sings a song, and insert a well-placed smirk when he knows the audience is going to react to a line.

He came out in his trademark red socks and shoes again (not Sauconys this time, but Adidas, so I doubt he has an endorsement deal), and a black suit with a red tie tied a bit too long.

He’s been introduced as a master storyteller, and certainly deserves that designation. His slow, deliberate, baritone voice, his audible breathing into the microphone and the little whistle when he pronounces his esses, and his great attention to detail, all keep you eagerly focused on his voice as he speaks or sings.

The group performed, “The Sounds Of Sickness,” with original lyrics based on Simon and Garfunkel’s classic, “Sound of Silence.” And another hilarious song based solely on the one ingredient that makes a man a father, and its miraculous journey. I think that one might have been the crowd’s favorite.

Add in a few two-song sets by some local musicians who were lucky enough to get exposure on such a broad stage, and a couple great skits including one where Keillor had a phone conversation with his mom about Easter brunch that somehow took a turn to his mother advising him to keep his Facebook profile updated, and the evening turned into nearly three hours of music, humor, and great celebration of the details of storytelling and the English language.

Toward the end of the show, Keillor gave an update on Lake Wobegon, where he spun the tale of him and his sister out walking in the garden, and while she looked for a perfect pumpkin, he found fascination in huge rotten tomato that he scooped up and examined, and then…instinctively flung at his sister.

As she chased him, he raced down the street and snuck into the corner bar to hide, encountering his Uncle Jack. So of course, the tangent turned to Uncle Jack and all his faults.

Twenty solid minutes of Keillor, on a stool, in a lone spotlight. Leg crossed, red shoes and socks on display, eyes closed. Reminiscing about days gone by on Lake Wobegon.

Quite a friendly companion to have on a Saturday night.

“God writes a lot of comedy...the trouble is,
he’s stuck with so many bad actors who
don’t know how to play funny.”
—Garrison Keillor

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What Rhymes With Orange?

NationalPoetryMonth2009In honor of April being National Poetry Month, I went to hear a poetry reading tonight at the local community college.

I’d never heard of the featured poet, Chuck Rybak, but...truth be told, I’ve never heard of quite a few poets, local or renowned, living or dead, rhyming or otherwise. I don’t consider myself a poet. (Which...I fear will be evidenced in just a few short paragraphs.)

Rybak’s perspective on a variety of subjects, and his wry wit, made the hour worthwhile. He read a great poem on a “mute” point, and also one in the style of Facebook status updates, which greatly amused those of us in the very small crowd who know what Facebook is.

But...since this is my blog, and not Chuck Rybak’s blog, I better post some original material, yes? I’ve got very limited experience as a poet, and many...if not all...of my past poems have been simple four-line rhyming stanzas. I haven’t strayed too far from the formula. I envision some free verse in my future, but until I actually get something down on paper...what can I say? I’m a Dr. Seuss wanna-be. Which I don’t consider to be a bad thing.

I know most established poets thumb their noses at poems that rhyme. “Feh!” they say, closing their mouths quickly before accidentally spitting out another word that rhymes with “feh.”

Without further ado, in great celebration of National Poetry Month, I give you my hastily thrown together poh-emm...

So It Rhymes...So What?

Roses are red
(who were you expecting...e.e. cummings?)
violets are blue,
I can write poems
and I bet you can, too.

It’s really quite easy,
just find a few words,
and write about snowflakes
or tulips or birds.

Or football or rugby
or manly type things,
or the shake of your head
every time Britney Spears sings.

You can write about heartache
or true love or laughter,
or the wild keg party
and the rough morning after.

Read poems from the masters
like Keats, Frost, and Poe,
they’ll give you direction
and off you will go.

So grab keyboard or
paper and pencil or pen.
Write a line, then another,
and then do it again.

I know you can do it,
you can’t write much worse
than the drivel you’re reading
from first to last verse.

But I’ll keep on trying
and hope to get better,
and be a famous wordsmith,
not a lowly typesetter.

Three cheers to April,
raise your beer or your Snapple.
And if you go to the store
could you bring me an orange?

“The only thing that can save the world is
the reclaiming of the awareness of the world.
That’s what poetry does.”
—Allen Ginsberg