Banjo Proverbs (videopoem)

This entry is part 11 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


I made a videopoem in support of my chapbook Breakdown: Banjo Poems, which is now at long last officially out and available to order. Here’s the blurb from the judge, Sascha Feinstein:

These captivating poems unfurl from associative narratives about banjos, yet the series far exceeds merely clever variations on a theme. Since no instrument can choose its player, music connects humanity at its most diverse, and these poems take full advantage of that simple truth. Through unusual settings, believable personification, and strong movement, these banjo poems invite us to consider the origins of the instrument and its history, the diversity of its players, the politics of race and religion, and a great deal more. It’s a concert that’ll make you say, “Oh yeah” and “Wow.”

Click the PayPal button to order a copy here.

Brain Food

(Office day). There all the morning and afternoon till 4 o’clock. Hence to Whitehall, thinking to have put up my books at my Lord’s, but am disappointed from want of a chest which I had at Mr. Bowyer’s. Back by water about 8 o’clock, and upon the water saw the corpse of the Duke of Gloucester brought down Somerset House stairs, to go by water to Westminster, to be buried to-night. I landed at the old Swan and went to the Hoop Tavern, and (by a former agreement) sent for Mr. Chaplin, who with Nicholas Osborne and one Daniel came to us and we drank off two or three quarts of wine, which was very good; the drawing of our wine causing a great quarrel in the house between the two drawers which should draw us the best, which caused a great deal of noise and falling out till the master parted them, and came up to us and did give us a large account of the liberty that he gives his servants, all alike, to draw what wine they will to please his customers; and we did eat above 200 walnuts. About 10 o’clock we broke up and so home, and in my way I called in with them at Mr. Chaplin’s, where Nicholas Osborne did give me a barrel of samphire, and showed me the keys of Mardyke Fort, which he that was commander of the fort sent him as a token when the fort was demolished, which I was mightily pleased to see, and will get them of him if I can.
Home, where I found my boy (my maid’s brother) come out of the country to-day, but was gone to bed and so I could not see him to-night.
To bed.

All morning thinking.
On the water, the corpse of a swan.
I eat 200 walnuts.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 21 September 1660.

Mappa Mundi

Confronted by a bridge, they are the ones who bring up references to falling water in early modern American architecture. Oh wait. But that’s premised on their ability to recognize that Prairie Style and Textile Style are not random but deliberately constructed marketing descriptions from a retail catalog called Urban Chic. Or perhaps they skim through books like How to Talk About Practically Anything and Sound Smarter Than You Really Are. It may not be apparent but there is a relationship between a culture’s consuming habits and the prevailing literacy rates. In yesterday’s paper there was a story on yet another librarian who lost her job for encouraging a fourth grader to read. The kid read at least three or four books a week and had won every prize at his county library— little plastic cup, pencils from the Dollar Store, bookmarks, a T-shirt donated by the Rotary Club. I’m willing to bet he could explain how The Odyssey is still relevant and as exciting as Nintendo or an RPG. Parents complained that their children couldn’t keep up; they wanted the staff to just draw names out of a hat. Fields of soybean and cotton bordering the road. New construction sites in an area the city council calls the new industrial corridor. Intermittent sweep of taillights— In the dead of night, there’s still never enough light to see by, much less read signs: deer crossing; soft shoulder; road freezes over; sheer drop. The GPS couldn’t save you; it would take more than twenty years to bring you home to yourself.


In response to Via Negativa: The Devil Hears Voices.

With Feeling

So what if the beautiful ones always sit in the first row, where the lights strike their hair and jewels the brightest? So what if their fathers have paid for the places they occupy, with little regard for how much it costs others? They post Selfies with captions like “Thing is, I don’t give a shit.” The potted trees in the atrium are equally beautiful for having no memory of origins. They breathe in the temperature-controlled air but do not bend their branches. A little boy pees in the terra cotta basin, unable to keep it in any longer. Outside, a storm begins its orchestral arrangements: tympani and brass; winds. But night’s darkest tuxedo is the mother of all corporations. I want to tell the guard who ushers out the errant boy and his crestfallen parent, You are mistaken. It is holy to feel the visceral coursing through you, unstoppable like wind or water. If you ever opened your mouth to the rain, perhaps you might understand how a string stretched as if near breaking gives off that depth of sound. Think of it like stars rushing through the roof. Think of the solitude of the lonely, the destitute, the ailing. Then try to play it again: the kind of music that trembles the skin, escapes the strictures of syntax.


In response to Via Negativa: My Dream About Playing the Guitar.

The Devil Hears Voices

At home, and at the office, and in the garden walking with both Sir Williams all the morning. After dinner to Whitehall to Mr. Dalton, and with him to my house and took away all my papers that were left in my closet, and so I have now nothing more in the house or to do with it. We called to speak with my Landlord Beale, but he was not within but spoke with the old woman, who takes it very ill that I did not let her have it, but I did give her an answer. From thence to Sir G. Downing and staid late there (he having sent for me to come to him), which was to tell me how my Lord Sandwich had disappointed him of a ship to bring over his child and goods, and made great complaint thereof; but I got him to write a letter to Lawson, which it may be may do the business for him, I writing another also about it. While he was writing, and his Lady and I had a great deal of discourse in praise of Holland.
By water to the Bridge, and so to Major Hart’s lodgings in Cannon-street, who used me very kindly with wine and good discourse, particularly upon the ill method which Colonel Birch and the Committee use in disbanding of the army and the navy; promising the Parliament to save them a great deal of money, when we judge that it will cost the King more than if they had nothing to do with it, by reason of their delays and scrupulous enquirys into the account of both.

Walking papers — I have nothing more.
That and a sandwich.
I bring water to the bridge
and a cannon to judge the king.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 20 September 1660.

My dream about playing the guitar

As hard as I pluck the strings, they will not sound. I add a capo, but it only produces a higher-pitched silence. The neighbor’s dog begins to howl. It’s broken, I think. The tree it was made from has taken back its birds. But then I remember the blues, and fetch an empty beer bottle from the recycling bin. As soon as the bottle’s neck hits the strings, they begin to wail. I slide it around, searching for the right three frets. But now I am overcome with a craving for pickles. I don’t even care what vegetables they come from, only that they are pale, crisp and briny and go well with rice. I want to taste the ocean. The bottle, I notice, has a message inside, the size and shape of a fortune cookie fortune. You may already be a winner, it says.

Tending Fire

This entry is part 18 of 18 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2013


Back then, when this was possible,
the sky might have filled
at dusk with wood-smoke, wispy
evidence of leaf-burning—

Domestic issue, those little fires
fed carefully in the yard
by mothers or grandmothers:
sentinels, furies, not one

of the immortals and yet
they watched to tamp
the headstrong flame,
conscripting fire

to interrupt the process,
consume the rot that creeps,
threatens to take hold
of the green and growing.

But there’s a cost to this
sort of tending, of waging
constant war against decline
which wants to have

its way, always—
Leave it alone a second,
turn aside; believe in its warm
disguises, and quickly rue.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Pathetic Fallacy

(Office day). I put on my mourning and went to the office. At noon thinking to have found my wife in hers, I found that the tailor had failed her, at which I was vexed because of an invitation that we have to a dinner this day, but after having waited till past one o’clock I went, and left her to put on some other clothes and come after me to the Mitre tavern in Wood-street (a house of the greatest note in London), where I met W. Symons, and D. Scobell, and their wives, Mr. Samford, Luellin, Chetwind, one Mr. Vivion, and Mr. White, formerly chaplin to the Lady Protectresse (and still so, and one they say that is likely to get my Lady Francess for his wife).
Here we were very merry and had a very good dinner, my wife coming after me hither to us. Among other pleasures some of us fell to handycapp, a sport that I never knew before, which was very good. We staid till it was very late; it rained sadly, but we made shift to get coaches. So home and to bed.

I put on my mourning
and went to the wood, where
the wind fell.
I stayed till late.
It rained sadly.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 19 September 1660.

The Committee on Ships

At home all the morning looking over my workmen in my house. After dinner Sir W. Batten, Pen, and myself by coach to Westminster Hall, where we met Mr. Wayte that belongs to the Treasurer, and so we went up to the Committee of Parliament, which are to consider of the debts of the Army and Navy, and did give in our account of the twenty-five ships. Col. Birch was very impertinent and troublesome. But at last we did agree to fit the accounts of our ships more perfectly for their view within a few days, that they might see what a trouble it is to do what they desire. From thence Sir Williams both going by water home, I took Mr. Wayte to the Rhenish winehouse, and drank with him and so parted.
Thence to Mr. Crew’s and spoke with Mr. Moore about the business of paying off Baron our share of the dividend. So on foot home, by the way buying a hat band and other things for my mourning to-morrow. So home and to bed. This day I heard that the Duke of York, upon the news of the death of his brother yesterday, came hither by post last night.

My men and I met, a committee
to consider ships,
to see what it is
they desire from water:
winehouse, home or bed?
Or news of the night…

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 18 September 1660.


This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2013


What is meant these days when critics and reviewers say this or that poet’s work has the flavor of urgency? Do they mean the urgency of the package that must be delivered not because of its contents, but because the sender has paid the more expensive rate? Do they mean speed: to beat the next two cars to the mall exit after hours? What do they mean when they praise the killer line and the break: do they drop a kick turn sharper than the boy skateboarding in the empty parking lot? Do they mean the sudden singed smell and the hank of hair that comes away in the grips of a hot iron as the teen makes her YouTube beauty tutorial? Even this late in the century, there are fields that hum at the edges from their proximity to barbed wire or an electric fence. Where can one walk where there aren’t bones buried underfoot? A man I went to school with was abducted three years ago as he waited in the early hours for a bus to take him into town. What the stones would say if they had tongues. How the smallest animals know when the merest shadow has crossed the yard.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.