Writes Alone

My musings & struggles with the blank page…

Reaquainted with Baldwin

Last night I read “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, I hadn’t read this short story in many years (had to read it in college). I was ambushed by the freshness and compelling writing of the man. We become like strangers to our past and maybe that’s why mostly we can never go back, because we change and things change, and there needs to be a common belief from all involved to make things work. Well as I was reading Sonny’s Blues, I do believe I was touched by something that seemed very close to magical and it worked. Baldwin reached back into the mythical past and resurrected it very deftly.

I can’t understand how I’d forgotten all about Baldwin, he’s a master storyteller. Weaving an epic tale of two brothers and the burden of what family can be, as well as the refuge and salvation it can sometimes offer. Baldwin gets it all down right and has you trembling inside yourself. This too shall pass and so will you, he booms from the pages beyond the grave. The subject of Death is batted around on the printed page by every author worth their salt (and quite a few who aren’t), but few can match Baldwin, he makes you quake with sorrow at the finality of it.The isolation of every human soul as it desperately fights to live on and make some kind of meaning before the inevitable conclusion, this is Sonny’s Blues. Addiction, death (lots of death), family dynamics, reconciliation, jazz, solitude, are just a few topics Baldwin tackles. I do remember loving this story the first time I read it, and I love it just as much this time, but I think my reasons are very different. When I read it in college, I had so much less compassion for the older brother and felt he didn’t try hard enough to help his younger brother. Back then I believed you could save people from themselves if you tried hard enough and didn’t give up.

“The Art of The Short Story” compiled by Dana Gioia and R S Gwynn, is what reaquainted me with Baldwin. A collection of 52 authors, their short stories and insights on their writing, published in 2006 shouldn’t be missed. It’s a treasure trove for anyone who writes this form of fiction. The selection of writers from all over the world, past and present, male and female, dead and alive, is wonderful. I’m loving it. Reading can be like dreaming while you’re wide awake, and this book is definitely the stuff dreams are made of.

The Mayor of MacDougal Street”

“The Mayor of Macdougal Street” is a marvelous memoir cowritten by Elijah Wald with Dave Van Ronk about Van Ronk’s experiences in Greenwich Village during the fifties and sixties as a struggling musician. This book really brings the whole scene alive, because Van Ronk pretty much knew or met everybody who was anybody as they passed through the coffee houses and bars during that time. Van Ronk mainly recounts the Folk Revival explosion and demise, but he also talks about the political and social scenes too. It’s highly readable and entertaining as he recounts the ups and downs of life as a starving musician. It’s never becomes a tiresome, name dropping, ego boosting, lost glory of bygone days, account of some washed up, bitter musician who didn’t make it to the big times, and believe me, Van Ronk admits it would have been very easy to become like that. Instead Van Ronk reveals the humble beginnings of The folk/political music scene that spawned such people as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, and Tom paxton. It’s a great read and I love the way he talks about his life in the music scene without any puffed up ego or self pity. I felt like I really learned something about the people who were a part of it. Apparently this book was supposed to be a much bigger project encompassing many more areas of interest in that time and place, but Van Ronk fell ill and died before it could be done. Elijah Wald did a first rate job of pulling together a great book, with what material he had to work with. The Coen Brothers movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” was inspired by this book. I don’t really think they captured the spirit of Van Ronk or the intensity of the time as well as he did in his own words. This book deserves to be read.

I did

Because I was told not to-
I did.

Just like Adam and sweet Eve-
I did.

No snake tempted me and yet-
I did.

Took what was not mine and fled-
I did.

And I will do it again-
I did.

Birth

Mother Universe
black and starless.
I Hide,divide, abide
until pushed into the light.

Know I-self,
but understand, where
I was conceived
is not where I was born.

A universe of dreams,
among the forgotten.
I was born
Knowing how to die.

4th and Vine

“You’re not listening to me.” said a female voice from behind me. “That’s not what I said, why are you arguing, if that’s not what I said?”
“Hey, wait a minute. I was just sayin’ that-” replied a male voice.
“I’m just not going to talk to you right now, because you’re not listening to me.”
A young couple dressed in beach attire disputing loudly walked passed me, as I stood on the grass waiting for the pug to do her business by the Safeway at 4th and Vine. The young woman had a nice, dark tan and long brown hair swept up in a high ponytail. She wore a light tan sundress with black Chinese writing on it, over a black bathing suit. From her left shoulder hung a silver and purple hula hoop. The young man was black skinned with a modest beard and an Afro. He sported a white football jersey and long, dark blue, shorts and carried a football in his right hand. They both wore flip flops that slapped against the soles of their feet as they headed down Vine St. to Kits Beach. I wondered why she had a hula hoop. I’ve seen a lot of young women carrying hula hoops in the neighbourhood lately and I can’t figure out why they have them.
Then out of the lane behind The Whole Foods across the street from where the pug and I still stood, emerged another young couple. The female in that unit had three hula hoops in vibrant hues of pink, orange, and purple slung from her right shoulder and wore fur boots with pom poms hanging from the front of them I could tell by their grim faces that she and her counterpart weren’t happy. They threaded their way through the cars waiting to enter the parking lots for Safeway and Whole Foods and once on the sidewalk they strode towards 4th Avenue. I couldn’t catch but a few words of their exchange, which seemed to be mostly cuss words that began with the letters f, g, and s. Again I was struck by the Hula Hoops worn very fetchingly from the young woman’s shoulder. The pug peed just after they passed, sniffed the air and then we continued down Vine towards 3rd Avenue.

Seamless Grace

Under the bus shelter,
Out of the rain,
I read a poem.
And became aware of
Another poem unfolding
Inside me.
Word to word the poems
Flowed in seamless grace.

I remembered swing sets
My father built strong,
Like scaffolds
to hang the condemned.
I watched him
Dig deep holes
To sink the beams.
His muscles knotting
And unknotting across
His back, as he mixed
Sand, gravel, and water
To eternally ground
The living wood.

Every house we lived in,
Except the last,
Always my dad hung
Swings for my
Brother and I.
Wood, rope, and dreams,
So much naked hope.

My brother and I patiently
Sifted the displaced dirt
For refugee worms,
Resettled in Grandad’s
Vegetable garden
Around the side
Of the house.
An old farm house in the midst
of the new.
Instead of an apple orchard,
Houses for families
in a brave, new city.
The present reinventing
The past
In seamless grace.

Air like This

When the air clumps,

Cloying, sweet.

A despairing mine of

Unsolved promises and

Dreams spoken once.

The will to breathe

floats submerged.

Drunks walk slant

and blame the

Tilt on forces of

nature too sobering

to consider.

Gratitude is thin and

Forced in air like this.

Just be thankful for

The emptiness within.

The fumes, the dust,

Foul breath, viral issues,

And bad posture cover

Us like dirty blankets.

To forget we must remember,

Remnants of selves castrated

Still keep f***ing us over.

Life Without

Children and Pets are expensive, but life without them would be very poor indeed.

So Far More

So this is what it all comes down to,
impotent explosions of colour
over the waters of English Bay.

Witnessed by,
the law abiding,
the lobotimized,
the lalalala.

Oohing and aahing
slacked jawed mob awe.
The Symphony of Fire.

Brings the trenches to life,
as I hunkered down in
my skull wince at,

Each booming jolt.
Hearing the spectacle
is far more, far more.

So far more, it’s just
so more of far, that I
don’t know if I’ll make it back.

Let Now Be Enough…

I think the hardest thing to write about is now, this moment I’m living in right now. To just pick up a pen or flip open the laptop and begin writing about what’s happening now. To share what is whipping through my mind right now just as it is or describing what is going on where I live at this moment or the parade of living what’s walking past me right at this moment, to write it simply and honestly as it’s unfolds before me. Why isn’t the now enough? Well the answer is pretty damn obvious, because it’s really hard to do. To make something worth reading about nothing but now, means I have to be very vulnerable and honest, because that’s what being in the moment demands. God, I don’t know where this is heading… maybe I’m writing in the now or something close to it anyway?

But what I really want to share with you is the quirky, brilliance of Joe Brainard. He is the master of writing about now and a whole host other things too. I found him because of my interest in poets from New York who were his friends and professional peers. I grabbed “The Collected Writings Of Joe Brainard” from the library just because of this and it’s been the crazy, best read of my summer. He’s a visual artist who designed book covers, painted, drew cartoons, etc… and maybe this helps make his writing so humble and simple, yet so original.

This is not fiction, it’s whatever comes into his mind now. Whatever is happening around him now. He did this manifesto to memories called “I Remember” and it’s so addictive. It’s memories he’s remembering now. As you read it, his memories. become your memories, which somehow stimulate your own memories, and it all gets mixed up together which sounds kind of confusing, but really isn’t when it’s happening, because it’s so fascinating to be reading these bite sized blurbs of things past. This is a piece you’ll want to return to again and again or at least I want to.

The rest of his writings are a pleasant jumble of diary entries, poems, musings, cartoons and other moments he’s put to rest on paper. I’ve enjoyed the whole book for the glimpses into Brainard’s life, mind, creative processes, sense of humour and how it all relates to humanity. This book is so universal and doesn’t shy away from the mundane details or the taboos of quotidian life.His book is an excellent tool for any creative soul, to help get us back into the moment and let now be enough.

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