Tag Archives: poetry

OLD MAN RIVER, Installment 4, Thesis

Another from the thesis. I spend a total of two months in the Delta doing research for a book about the Delta Blues. One day I had a chance to paddle on the river in a dugout canoe, hand made by John Ruskey. There’s only a handful of natural wonders in this great country that can grab you by your soul and fill you full of a profound new perspective. The Mississippi is one.

[17]

Yesterday on the river, the Old Man spoke in roiling current & half buried bleach-white branches. Heading upstream, hugging the shoreline to avoid thousand-yard barges & the Coast Guard tug snagging stranded buoys, we paddled past lifetimes of conversation gouged out of the rip-rapped banks, past forty, fifty foot trees beached thirty foot above water-line, like broken toothpicks discarded after a dinner of catfish, fried okra, black-eyed peas & sweet tea.

When you’re on the Mississippi you’re on river time.
I kept waiting for something to happen.

We made a fire among driftwood on a sandbar & boiled water for coffee while the river slipped past silent as the smoke from the black walnut we were burning. I crossed the tracks of beaver that had gnawed down brush-branches & dragged them to the water, a raccoon’s small hand-prints following the waterline for dead fish, the ghosts of coyotes wrestling around higher up the bank—tails swishing sand, paws, bellies, backs & snouts imprinted. The river is down 18 foot from normal for this time of year & we’re all taking advantage.

When spring sends its run-off from the Continental Divide & Ohio River valley, from Canada & the northern plains, our tracks here will be washed away—disappearing in that immense breath.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blues from the Delta and the road, In the water, In the woods, My thesis was about fishing

THE BOWHUNTING BOOK

One of the best things about being a creative at an advertising agency is that I’m fortunate enough to call some amazingly talented people my friends….artists, designers, writers, musicians, photographers. Another bonus is being asked to collaborate with some of these talented people on a project that’s outside the confines of work…especially when the project is about bowhunting.

I had been on some shoots for Grant Taylor, a photographer, friend and kindred outdoors spirit. He’s slogged his way into a muddy January field, climbed 25 feet up a tree and hunkered down in a snowy hedgerow to get shots like these (and the masthead image on this blog):



So when he asked if I’d be willing to write poetry for a bowhunting photography promo book that he was planning, I was all-in. An added bonus: I got to work with another close friend and tremendous designer, Rachel Spence.

Aside from it being a beautiful collection and representation of Grant’s outdoor photography and Rachel’s design, the finished product turned out to be, for me, a pretty significant reflection on my passion for this sport and the outdoors, as well as my relationship with my dad. It’s not often that I get emotional about anything I write, but at one point while writing the piece for the image of the the generational picture, I actually got choked up – realizing just how fortunate I’ve been to have the time in the field that I do with my dad. It’s a big deal, and something I look forward to enjoying with my kids.

At any rate I wanted to share the book with all you kindred outdoor spirits…enjoy.

And with that, I give you SEASONS.

(Just click the link. It’s attached as a PDF)

2 Comments

Filed under In the woods, Making a living

BY THE LAKE, Installment 2, Thesis

[51]

Deep evening.
I light my pipe & pull up a chair by the lake.
Geese are arriving, one pair at a time, sometimes two.
Their song in flight echoes as they pass
on my side of the island. It is different
than the song that signals their circling,
different still than their song as they finally descend.

Into the water they careen feet first, wings wide as spring,
breasting the water & pollen film, a cacophony
of clucks & growls & sharp honks,
haggling with geese that have already settled in the water.

To sit close enough at waters’ edge is to hear
their pinion feathers rattle like playing cards in spokes,
& with ample light, to see muscles working at their shoulders & breast,
to see the outstretched tongue of the loud lead bird as he wails,
to see each white belly feather as they arc around a bend,
to see water spatter ahead of their webbed feet on the still surface.

After a time they float, still & silent as decoys,
as the few remaining pairs arrive. Some land directly
on the island. Others sing & circle & sing & splash down.

8:45 & like clockwork they have all made their way to nests
in the shadow that is the island, have had one last blaze of voices
& assured that all are accounted for, have gone silent
or murmur beneath my hearing.
A bullfrog sounds.

Leave a comment

Filed under In the water, My thesis was about fishing

Aleida

I just spent this past Sunday with my 7 year old daughter at a lacrosse tournament. She was playing with the 3rd and 4th grade girls team, invited because their numbers were thin and she’s tall (and quite coordinated) for her age – and I was asked to help coach. I worried a little that the age/skill difference (and the fact that she had never played a real game before) might make her shy/pensive/un-assertive. Quite the contrary. She had a ball, and I found myself uncharacteristically silent several times throughout the day, just watching her run, laugh, scowl and chase the fast-break, take a breather on the side-line with her goggles on her forehead and a Gatorade in hand. At those specific moments, had I tried to offer some sort of instruction or encouragement, I’m sure my voice would’ve cracked (that’s a no-no, by the way. No emotional stuff, dad.). I did holler though when she scored a goal, her first, and my voice cracked like puberty had made a comeback.

The last couple days I’ve been thinking about how far she’s come from the pudgy bundle we brought home that cool Virginia November almost 8 years ago. Throw in any number of Coldplay, Dave Matthews, Augustana, Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake tunes that happen to be playing on my iTunes and voila! I’m suddenly up to my eye-balls in nostalgia. We had Aleida while I was in grad school at George Mason for poetry. A good deal of my writing was about my every-day…trying to make connections between my past and my present. Having our first child made for a pretty deep pool of “writing matter.” Here’s a section from my master’s thesis (a book-length poem about fatherhood, fishing and the landscape(s) of America) that I just re-discovered, in which I talk about Aleida:

[34]

Most pools have been filled in with concrete to keep
kids from swimming. Suckers run in fractional numbers.
Land around the cemetery has been cleared. Wooded places,
have been cleared that used to feel as if, in being there,
your steps were the first. Dogs are not allowed.
Plots are allowed only two arrangements per—
tasteful, modest arrangements.

Dad took my daughter to look for suckers this spring.
In a small piece of slack-water above the fourth bridge
they found three fat lakers holding in the shade.
He lifted one toward my daughter, her eyes wide
& then wider, the fish working its mouth, waving its tail
back & forth. Not sure what to make of this creature,
she screamed when she touched it, laughed her child-laugh,
wiped her hands on her pants as dad returned the fish to the water.

Yep, connections between my past and my present. Fatherhood, much like fishing or poetry I’m realizing, is about paying attention to the small things…before those small things grow up and head into the current of their own life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey

Who says poetry doesn’t pay?

I’m a writer at an advertising agency. My job is to understand our clients’ business at least as well as they do and deftly influence the public favor of their products, services or brand.

I’m also a poet. Not in the “my ad copy is Laureate-worthy” sense, mind you. My graduate degree is in poetry – specifically the writing of it. An interesting choice for an Army veteran to be sure.

In truth, I always thought I would teach writing, composition and literature at a college or university. That’s traditionally how poets are able to make a living and work on their craft (there are my favorite exceptions, Doc Williams and Mr. Stevens, though). But life has a way of not always following best-laid plans.

Not long after I joined my first advertising agency, I was told that my background and experience in writing poetry and the military do not count toward experience in writing for advertising. From a tenure point of view, I guess I agree (although the pain and suffering that a poet/veteran experiences for his art is an eerie parallel to that of an advertising writer…it should count).

But my agreement ends there. Having now been in the ad business a while, I’ve come to see the basic tenets of writing poetry are one and the same for writing ads:
1. Economy of words – my guess is that, while it is a bastion of our literary canon, maybe one in a thousand have read Beowulf by choice. The Volkswagen “Lemon” ad from the 60’s on the other hand…
2. Voice – no one likes to read words that lie there on the page like…well…ink. If they don’t echo the truth of your Grandmother’s sage advice, or make you snap to attention like a barking drill sergeant, they’re silent.
3. Relevance – it never matters what the subject matter is…only that the writer closes the gap between ambivalence and action. Moves the needle from ignorance to understanding.
4. Imagination – the best writing – further, the best ideas – make connections between the practical and the fanciful. They leap…and we’re cool with following.
5. Fearlessness – Like my mom told me when she was teaching my how to drive: “He who hesitates is lost.” Creativity or art that hesitates is not creative. It’s merely safe. And where does that get you?

William Maynard of the Bates agency, I think, would agree. In David Ogilvie’s book On Advertising, he was quoted as (now famously) saying:

“Most good copywriters fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end.”

I loved the quote for it’s truth (and personal vindication) the first time I read it. Still do. But the interesting (and, admittedly, motivating) part of the quote is what comes next:

“If you are both killer and poet, you get rich.”

I guess this poet’s right where he needs to be.

3 Comments

Filed under Making a living