Tuesday, June 29, 2004



Dick Jones, from DICK JONES' PATTERAN PAGES, left the following reflection about writing and blogging and playing bass in a comment over at Cassandra Pages. I will be away for two weeks. The last time I was gone, earlier this month, Peter at slow reads asked: "Does that mean it's open mike week here?" Well, yes, I guess it could mean that. And since we've recently lost Tonio's blog, and Common Beauty, and Book of Life, and Fred at Fragments from Floyd says he's gonna slow down a little bit, and I find myself leaving comments here and here about why I blog, why don't all of you have an open discussion here about your blogging, how it fits the rest of your work, whether it energizes or drains you, etc. Should you wish to oblige, I will be pleased to come home to a messy collection of wisdom on the topic. Here is Dick Jones' comment:

I feel more comfortable with my writing now than at any earlier time in my life. If I was driven excessively from the start by the desire to set the world alight with my deathless prose & my incandescent verse, that imperative ran out of momentum when I realised that all was vanity & I was only reaching a constituency of one & even he was losing interest in my prodigious output. So I stopped & played bass guitar in a series of bands instead.

This was a salutary experience. Audiences identify with the vocalist or adulate the lead guitarist; they don't notice the bass guitarist. He plunks alone, shadowy & monosyllabic behind the fireworks. So I stood on the left of the drummer, laid back on the rhythm & just enjoyed the simple process of playing an instrument. And that small epiphany had its kickback into writing: for the first time I started to write poems for the sake of the statement made & the craft of putting it together, unconcerned with rapturous reception from the world at large.

That enjoyment has been supplemented, but by no means supplanted, by some modest publishing success over the past 18 years. But it's principally been the pursuit of a personal notion of excellence that has driven the writing on.

And I guess I may well have wobbled off towards old age content enough with a small bunch of homebrew, free range poems tucked into a notebook, read by family & friends, had it not been for the dicvovery of the weblog. The joy of blogging for me - & I'm certain for many others too - is in its synthesis of ars gratia artis on the part of the writer & instant interaction with the reader. There is no sense of tailoring output for a largely invisible public: if the stuff has instrinsic merit then it will find its constituency &, one by one, maybe, they will come knocking on the door via the comments box. And for my purposes at this fairly advanced point in my life that works about as well as anything needs to.



Some time ago, Shoshauna Shy at Woodrow Hall Editions/BookThatPoet.com put out an unusal call. She was looking for "lively and upbeat poems" to launch the Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf program. Any topic was welcome, Shoshauna said, as long as it referred in some way to bicycles, walking, public transportation, car-pooling or appreciation of the natural environment. The poems selected will be produced for Community Car, Madison, Wisconsin’s member-based car-sharing program, and Budget Bicycle’s Red Bikes Rental Program; the poems will appear inside hand-sized books in glove compartments, attached to handlebars as laminated bookmarks, on membership invoices or in Community Car newsletters.

Shoshauna selected two of my poems for this adventure, "Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain" and "Simply Morning" from Between Zen & Midwestern.

The project is coming to fruition. In today's mail, I got samples. What a nifty idea it is. My poems are printed on white stock that has been laminated on both sides; a punch-hole in the upper corner allows a key chain to be put through the sheet. These poems will be "attached to the handlebars of 4-to-8 Red Bikes. These bikes start out as trade-ins, get painted red, then given to people to use during the warm weather months for a nominal deposit. If returned intact by Halloween, the riders get their deposits back."

We can only imagine all of the places your poems go and who happens to read them, Shoshauna suggests.

I admire the inventiveness of this project, and am pleased to be included. Indeed, it takes poetry off the shelf and out of the classroom, and puts it face-to-face where people are.



This is part of an interview I conducted in July, 2003, with 99-year-old Pearl Mt. Castle of Lewisburg, Ohio. Pearl taught school for forty years, usually fifth grade. She taught Sunday School for sixty-four years, retiring from that when she was in her nineties. She still lives independently in the house and on the farm her parents moved into in 1913. She still takes care of herself. She still sometimes refers to herself in the third person, in the manner of old school teachers. I found that my job during this interview was to stay out of the way and let Pearl tell her story. Pretty much I succeeded in staying out of the way; there's no question but that Pearl can tell her story. Try and keep up with us, now.

"I had a boy that was a nuisance in the classroom," Pearl remembered. "He wanted to show off and he didn't care whether he learned or not. The new year, my class came in. Of course, I had to get acquainted with everyone, and everyone was the same as far as I was concerned. I didn't know who they were. The teacher who had him before said 'Oh, did you get him? Oh, Pearl, I feel sorry for you.' I finally found out who this boy was. He was going to show off, make fun in the classroom, play horse. One day he came to school with steel taps on the heels of his shoes. The school building was old. It had wooden floors. It sounded like a horse walking across the room - clump, clump, clump, you know. One day I thought 'I can't take all this.' So as the children were coming in from playing, I was at the door receiving my class, and he was tagging along behind about six or eight feet. CLOMP clomp CLOMP clomp. I stepped in front of him while the rest of the class went on in and took their places. And I said 'Bob, I know that you have to have these heel taps to save your shoes. Boys wear out their shoes, I know that. But couldn't you be a bit more quiet as you walk?" He said "I suppose." So he walked on his tip-toes back to his seat. And the next day the taps were off.

Pearl didn't challenge him, she asked him for help. "Charmed him" is how she puts it. "Psychology," she said.

In the Depression, Pearl said, "we always had good food. We raised our own cows. We butchered our own hogs. We had a big vegetable garden. We canned. We had fruit preserves. I still love to cook. I cook three meals a day and eat right."

Eating right might be another part of Pearl's secret to long life. "It has to be - living here where I have good food, a good atmosphere, quiet, peace, and we have a spring here. When we first got the farm, we had a hydraulic ram that pumped the water up to the house, so we had running water in a trough in the basement - like a refrigerator. Everything stayed cool. In the family we had cows and chickens, so our income was from the milk and eggs and the butter we made. We ate well, but we were poor and didn't know it. With my mother's good management. It was all the years, I'm talking about, the early ones too, not just the Depression."

"Even now," she said, "I'm eating almost all out of the garden - the peas and so on. My nephew who lives here in the mobile home - it was his wife who just called me - he dug the garden. I had polio and can't walk - that's my big problem. See how I have to walk, that is a burden."

"With my polio," she continued, "my mother got me to the doctor right away and he diagnosed it almost at once, but in those days there wasn't much they could do. They massaged it. When I was a little girl and would lie down to take my nap, my mother would massage that ankle and that leg most affected by the polio."

During World War I, Pearl said, "my mother, being away from her family, corresponded all the time with her brothers and their families. Her youngest brother went to North Dakota and took up a claim in 1900. She corresponded with him regularly, and with the brother and his family and her mother back in Roanoke. I believe in keeping in touch with family. Right now I could go back to the Civil War era and tell you about my grandfather who wore the Confederate uniform. That's been a love of mine, to keep up with the family. That's history."

"In the First World War, there were some Olson boys from North Dakota, where the younger brother of my mother had settled. They were stationed at Wright Field in Dayton. They were on their way to Europe. My uncle wrote my mother and said 'Those boys are there and can't go home, can't get back to North Dakota. Maybe you could call them and let them know you are interested in them.' And he gave my mother the address of these Olson boys. Mother looked at me and she said, 'Pearl, that's a job for you.' I was only 14. She said, 'You can be the one to write.' So I wrote a letter right away, to the address my uncle had sent. Before the letter ever got to them, they were moved out of Wright Field and were in New York to be shipped off. They couldn't answer me until they got to England. So a little 14-year-old girl was corresponding with those North Dakota boys in Europe."

The correspondence continued for a couple of years while the boys were in Europe.

To be continued....



(501 W. Third #12, Smith Center, KS 66967)

"Stevy Pete was a tellin' about when he lived in town about twenty years ago," Ivan wrote. "Pete lived in the northwest part of town. He was being bothered by skunks. Steve said one morning about three o'clock he was on his front porch wearing only his jockey shorts and boots shooting at a skunk. His neighbor yelled, 'I've got pictures.'"

"Jenifer Hamilton, the New York Lady, loaded her pick-up, Trusty Rusty, and headed for her new mission field, Sterling, Colorado," Ivan said. "Hamilton left Western Plains Village around nine o'clock last Wednesday morning. There was a trail of brown flecks in the wake of Trusty Rusty. It could have been rust or it could have been something about the same color as rust."

"Judy Hall held her first T-Ball practice one evening last week," said Ivan. "She put the helmet on one little girl. As she was putting it on, Judy said to the little girl, 'Now you know what this is for, don't you?' The little girl said, 'Yes, it's to keep the hair out of your eyes.'"

Ivan said: "I said to Brenda the waitress, 'You know, you are a kind of a pain in the rear.' She said, 'I know, but I'm good at it.'"

"Like the late Ted Relihan used to say," Ivan wrote, "'we have made a lot of improvements in Smith Center and I've been against nearly every one of them.'"

"I did learn something at Paul's Cafe last Friday morning," Ivan said. "When I got there Glen Allen was the only one there. Glen said he had stayed up all night waiting for dew on the grass. He said there wasn't any even after the wind went down. Now the reason Allen was waiting for the dew was because he wanted his alfalfa to get some moisture on it before he started baling it. He said you had to have dew. Gene Conaway came in and said you need to have a little moisture to bale. Said it kept the protein in the leaves. Then Kendall Nichols observed that there are not many old farmers who fool with alfalfa anymore. And, he continued, most of the alfalfa is baled at night. I get a better education right up there at Paul's Cafe than I would if I enrolled at K-State."

"I think I got Lonna's name spelled right," Ivan said after mentioning her. "I just sounded it out and used whatcha call your fonicks."

There were three preachers at The As the Bladder Fills Club one morning. "With three ministers gathered in one place, the place took on a kind of a sanctimonious glow," Ivan said. "Conversations were cleaned up and no one eye-balled the waitresses. Oh, that reminds me, waitress Julie Schmidt coached little girls T-Ball Thursday night. Julie takes her orders directly from team manager Judy Hall. They call themselves manager and coach but I don't think they had a bunt signal between them."


JUNE 29, 1998

Going back to work this morning is about more than going back to work. It is about stepping back into my customary rituals, my usual habits, about going back to dance my eternal dance. In a sense, it is reassuring - getting back to what I know. In another sense, it is confining, I suppose like stepping back into the darkness of prison.

At the very least, I shall be able to start again my morning meditation on the drive to work. I wonder how long it will take me to get comfortable with this once more. My writing has been very hit and miss the past month.

Oh, loud birds, birds singing in my yard. I start the pick-up. The ritual has begun. With song, with mourning dove on the driveway, with sun coming over the tree tops, long shadows.

Dew glistens on individual blades of grass.

Just north of town I see a large part of a tree is down. I had not noticed that on Saturday.

The winter rye has turned color and should be ready for harvest in two or three weeks perhaps.

A little water still stands in some of the fields. With the moisture and the heat and the humidity, you can almost hear the corn growing.

All the fields of peas along Highway E have been harvested.

Now I see soybeans up in all the untilled fields just south of Five Corners. Morning glories are in glorious bloom in the flower beds at Five Corners.

A bicyclist between Five Corners and Union Street wears a bright tie-dyed shirt - gold like the sun, red like blood.

It is good to be home again.

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