Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kentucky Poets Week: Frank X Walker

I love Frank X Walker. I'm a little sad I didn't get to know him better while I was in Kentucky, but I did hear him read and I did run into him on the street one evening and I did shake his hand to congratulate him on winning the Lannan Literary Fellowship. He was the judge for a MUCH smaller writing award I won the same year, so I felt special shaking his hand in the middle of the road like that.

Frank X Walker has the best eyes. You probably think there are more important things about him than that, but if you ask me, it all starts with and comes from the eyes.

But okay, there is also the fact that he co-founded the revolutionary Affrilachian Poets and, in fact, coined the term "Affrilachian" in response to a dictionary entry that defined Appalachians as "white residents of the region of Appalachia." In his words here, "I believe it is my responsibility to say as loudly and often as possible that people and artists of color are part of the past and present of the multi-state Appalachian region extending from northern Mississippi to southern New York." The Affrilachian Poets collective now includes 25+ poets of color writing and living in Appalachia.

Frank X Walker also wrote my absolute favorite collection of persona poems: Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York, written in the voice of York, the slave from Virginia who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to the Pacific and back; the poems follow the narrative arch of the journey through York's eyes. I cannot say enough about how profound and beautiful and sensual and thought-provoking and moving that book is. Nor, sadly, can I share any of its poems with you because - as with all of my most treasured books - I have lent it out to a good friend and, two years later, have yet to get it back.  But I will be buying it again today, along with its sequel, When Winter Come: The Ascension of York.  And so should you.

So instead (as a bonus nod to Obama's visit to my hometown of Iowa City today!) I'm snatching a poem from The Charleston Gazette, posted on Election Day 2008 and in turn snatched from Jeff Biggers' blog on The Huffington Post the day before.

by Frank X. Walker
To the seasoned black women in line behind me when I went to early vote

we move as if chained together, we move like we are
pacing out the complex steps to the new line dance

thank you for taking off work today, for standing
outside in the cold on sore feet for so long
bundled in winter scarves, long skirts, leather coats,
faux fur, bandanas, fatigues, sweats and jeans
clutching designer purses, book bags and paper sacks

to the right, to the right, to the right, to the right

thank you for clearing your throat
when anybody forgot to move the line

thank you for leaning on your canes
for looking over your reading glasses

to the left, to the left, to the left, to the left

for casting a watchful eye at the poll workers
and at me and at everybody within squinting distance

for wearing my mother's nose on your faces, for wearing
her shoes, for standing with your hands on your hips too

now kick, now kick, now kick, now kick

now move as if chained together, now move like we are
pacing out the complex steps to the new line dance

now walk it by yourself, now walk it by yourself

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kentucky Poets Week: Maurice Manning

I am a great fan of poetry written in the voice of another. I once wrote a series of poems in the voice of Tallulah Bankhead. (Did you know she had an affair with Billie Holiday? They had a falling out because Billie mentioned it to a biographer and Tallulah never forgave Billie before she died. But she did bring two dozen roses to her funeral.) A poet gets to think like an actor, to get inside the head of whomever it may be, and - with no script - to say the poem-worthy things that person may have thought.

Today's poet wrote an entire lovely book in the voice of Daniel Boone, who explored the state of Kentucky. I feel like I learned more about the pioneer from this book than I ever did in history classes and yet, as the late, magnificent Kentucky poet James Baker Hall puts it on the back cover of the book, "For all their tale-telling these poems are more often meditation and prayer than story."

Me being me, one of my favorite poems from this book is just such a meditation - on time. From (page 8 of) his great work A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Long Hunter, Backwoodsman, &c. I give you Maurice Manning.

The Meaning of Time

On occasion I would meet an Indian
in possession of a broken pocket watch
(one no doubt bartered from the British or
plundered from a dead settler), who had
no idea he held a device to measure minutes
and hours, who had no notion of gears
and had a one-sided concept of springs:
simple objects of flow, mouths spilling out
the watery secrets of the netherworld.
Would such an Indian study the frozen
hands and face to see how long it takes
to make a fire, gut a buffalo? Is sunlight
dripping on the leaves a question suitable
for clocks? Can a wounded man be spoken
of in terms of neutral hours? Is the whole
world endlessness? Yes, it is. The world
is endless cause and need, slow motion
and design. The world is irreversible,
no matter how much you let it tick down:
a white man boiling berries, tying and retying
his purse strings; a red man staring at the sky;
a silver case flashing moonlight: there is no
measure or meaning in this low world:
the present is always passing away; what matters
is nature, with even-tempered mischief, always
breaking her own rules, like a child at play.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kentucky Poets Week: Coleman Larkin

After a very full weekend including 1 killer show, 2 days of gorgeous spring weather, and 3 songs that now have vocal tracks, I'm thinking it's a good time to let some other folks use this space for their words, so I can sit back and have a little quiet time. 

Luckily, I have recently made a trip to my old Lexington, Kentucky home (I lived there for 3 years before Boston) to visit friends and have brought back with me fresh blooms of inspiration from the rich writing soil of Appalachia.  If you don't already know about the literary legacy of Kentucky, please google "Kentucky writers" and explore a little.  It is such a wonderful trove of great writing.  Or just stay tuned to my blog this week because I'll be selecting some really wonderful poetry - new and old - from some of the best Kentucky writers.

Today, I have the honor of sharing with you one of my favorite people ever.  I first met Coleman Larkin in an intro fiction writing class with real live merry prankster, Gurney Norman.  We were partnered up to read each other some bit of something we'd written...which is how I found out the second and third things Cole and I had in common (after writing):  shyness and a "proclivity for the female neck."  Since then, Cole has become the first person I send anything to when I need a reader and every now and then I am fortunate enough to find his work in my Inbox.  He is quite possibly the only peer writer I've never felt competitive with; his work is so transcendent, I feel nothing but hopeful that he will keep the words flowing out into the world.  He's just...a writer.  A Kentucky writer to the bone (all that means is that you can hear the home in his words and that home is Kentucky).

Cole is also an award-winning journalist, a stand-up comedian (though not the kind most mothers approve of) and happens to write band bios on the side (including the current TBH bio), so twitter or facebook the man now - or just sit and wait until his work infiltrates your awareness.  Either way.

This is supposed to be my quiet time so I will now shut my yap and give it over to the poetry of Coleman Larkin.


Beyond windows tall as pride and the decayed Corinthian capitals of old Second Street a fraction stares through the night. My sweet striving city, angelic as you are. Neon. Cerulean. Halo. My sweet striving city of shoe shiners and the bow-tied and everything that pushes my pen. What’s your real name and how come every girl I ever love ends up on your high South hill where I can’t reach her? I’d like to die right on top of you, Lexington, and grow up a blue-green blade.


Did I mention my predilection for your sly heat? Cold shoulder be damned it sneaks and warms without cause or consent. My God. I’d like to take a night walk with you around the holidays, watch you melt through to the pavement like a rivet and blow kisses to the bums. Even the snow couldn’t stay frozen in your thick atmosphere. You’ve got one you know, a second skin of hot atoms that cloud and shake, a larger version of your self that’s invisible but not empty, a coalescence of earned insights surrounding you like a superimposed shadow. Not everyone has it, and I’m not sure if it’s good. But did I mention my predilection?


“They should invent some sort of liquid solution to this problem,” I said, and you said you just preferred the sensation of me holding your hand and picking the burgundy polish from your nails with my own, taking extra care around the cuticles, amassing a palm of glittery platelets. But, come to think of it, the problem of which I spoke was that I saw a poetry in the action and assumed an exchange with you, you who has pianist’s fingers but doesn’t play the piano.


Their homes float like luxury liners on frozen swells of green, and at week’s end they row into town and dock their Japanese SUVs and cobalt Beamers and their overkill trucks with calfskin insides in front of the historic storefronts where Mexican horsemen wait for the working months, their jagged teeth and sagging pawn shop sorrows imparting an uneasiness to the fur-clad women of The Other Paris. “Can’t nobody do nothing ‘round this place,” say the men, because they aren’t yet accustomed to the Commonwealth where looking is a bigger sin than doing, so they jingle the bells on their way into the Alta Vista where their wives align pastries and fumble with money they don’t understand but nevertheless earned, and everybody falls in love with everybody all over again because they remember how rare it is to find a soul that’s solid. Especially here. Especially in The Other Paris where it gets dark early and the fur-clad sailors row home to their grassy Atlantis while wet-bellied dishwashers with bad knees and brothers in need of chemo treatments carry their cold discs into the streets and stuff their cheeks with chaw, screaming “Never again!” again and again and again, their hearts steaming away, leaving syrupy reductions of present hurts and forgotten joys. If there’s a god he should bless them, wrinkled palms and all.

Friday, March 19, 2010

First blossoms

did we lose faith under all that snow?
death:  the unseen.
spring:  the unveiling of shapes that were forming all along.
winter:  a factory of renewal.

are you looking for heaven?
are you letting your heart melt, too?

(will you be at Church of Boston tonight at 8pm to celebrate with us?)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The power of your heart

Okay, so I've hit only a minor snag in my blog plan for this week, so I have postponed it to next week...

For now, although I really should be promoting our (AWESOME) show Friday (AT CHURCH OF BOSTON, 9PM, 18+)  (BE THERE!)  I just have to give you this song, which was given to me by a dear friend who knows me a little.  Peter Gabriel puts melody to Lou Reed's poetry.  It is so beautiful.  I want to stitch it into the tissue of my heart.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A hint about next week's blog theme!

Here's another poem for you!  Brand new, and a two-fold hint at what I've got up my sleeve for next week!

Till then, Happy Friday, friends!

Spring in Kentucky

I remember thinking that every shade of green 
had gathered at once - leaves on the dogwoods, 
stems on the lace growing wild in the ditch.  
I learned to harmonize on Russel Cave Road, 
clutching the passenger door round tight curves.
Singing gave the driver respite from shouting and 
I could hide inside the songs and watch 
the smear of hills and tobacco barns pass.
I often wished for escape on the white horse 
who faithfully waited alone by her fence.
Or to become the one creature on earth 
who could silence my belting companion:  
to slither away on a scaly green belly, safe
in the camouflage of endless bluegrass.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring on the branches of dream trees

Last night I dreamed of cherry blossoms appearing out of the darkness, and magnolias.

And I dreamed I had a baby and she was three by the time I noticed her standing there in the hospital room.  Somehow a hundred pencils spilled across the linoleum and so I taught her to catch rolling pencils.  How to put them away into the right cases.  We felt accomplished when it was done.

I used to have a pencil case I made from a chocolate box.  Godiva.  In the dream I had three.

There was a magnolia tree next to the house of my early childhood.  Inexplicably, at the end of spring, my sister and I once gathered the fallen petals from under that tree and wrapped them around rocks we found on the ground.  It seemed important.  To give those cold stones some soft protection.

There are cherry trees in Arnold Arboretum.  I used to pass them every day on my way to the train.  I could never stay on the sidewalk when I came to them.  I had to be under the branches, to step inside the world of all those blooms.  I was always late for work.  I don't think there are any cherry trees in my neighborhood now, but I do think I'll plant a garden.

What is it about dreams that tugs at me?  It is more than the message intended from my unconscious, it's the medium itself.  The images.  More real, somehow, than all the sensible hard things all around me.  Easier to engage.

If I am childlike (as I have been told), it is for this.  The better to enter into dreams.

When I woke up, I was dying for an iced cherry mocha (as I'm told Starbucks now has).  I guess after the dream, I decided spring had officially arrived and lent must be over.  I'm staying strong, though.  Office coffee it is.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This is what happens when I'm given creative control

March is on

Well, my mother was worried about me, so I'm back with the good news.

Spring has come!  It's light when I leave the office, birds (other than my neighbor's roosters) are singing me awake, allergies have kicked in, and new plans are in the works.

It seems the upshot of giving up your optimism is that you can clearly see the problem areas and begin to own them.  The upshot of giving up your forbearance is that urgency and yes-saying give you the motivation to do what must be done to make changes.  (What "this blue heaven" is all about, really - in spite of "optimistic" as a too-common descriptor of our music.)

Seasonal cycles, like so many other natural cycles, give us that:  growth, decline, death and renewal.  I'm beginning to trust that each is necessary, each has its own offering, and each will always make way for the next.  February's gift is to wipe clean your slate (even if it feels like you're being knocked off your feet).  March's gift is a clean slate to start drawing up new plans!

And so I am.

And you'll see the results, I have no doubt.

Monday, March 8, 2010

To help you through the dark, dark nights

Thanks to all who came to support us!  And thanks to Michael J. Epstein (& Sophia Cacciola) for the video!  More herehere & here (that last one is rated PG-13 but has the added bonus of back up vox from Magen Tracy & Sophie Innerfield)... and maybe more to come on the blog one of these days....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

TBH Gets Folked Up & Gives Away Free Songs!

So today's the day!  My one shot at being a folk singer (and I can't even strum & sing at the same time anymore?! - thank goodness for the Guitar Player, his skills, and his total willingness to indulge me on this).  Even Boston Band Crush knows what's up!  

So yeah, one more time:  it'll be the absolutely wonderful Magen Tracy of St. Helena, the brilliant Sophie Innerfield of Highly Personal Trash, and, well, us! - At the Armory Cafe in Somerville TONIGHT, 8pm sharp!  Don't miss this event that kicks off a whole weekend of awesome shows around Boston!

In celebration of this evening's show and of spring on the horizon and of life and light and darkness and planets and fireflies (the list goes on...) I have, as promised, a surprise for you that is much sweeter than finding out what a folked out TBH singer wears to a gig (which you have to wait till tonight for anyway).

This Blue Heaven is giving away 11 live tracks for FREE at

These tracks include unreleased tunes as well as favorites from Quicksandglass - recorded & mastered by sonic superhero Joel Simches from our live on-air performance on WMFO in January!  While you're on the bandcamp site, note that you can also still download the Bliss video and single for free.  And of course the record itself is there for the buying as well.

Enjoy, friends!  See you tonight!  I'll be the one in blue lingerie and combat boots.  (Whoops...)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

TBH TOFURKEY TOUR PART 3: I wanna go on tour forever...and shower slightly more often.

I now know what I'm going to wear for the acoustic show (tomorrow night 8pm at The Armory Cafe in Somerville)...but I'm not telling.  It's a surprise.  Okay it will probably involve my signature hat.  My oldest friend said it's very me, so I'm going with it.  But the rest is a surprise and you'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out.  Speaking of which, in honor of our folk debut, I have a gift to bestow on y'all tomorrow.  So check back here for goodies!  It'll be much more exciting than finding out what I wear.  I promise.

'Till then we have Part 3 of the 2009 This Blue Heaven Tofurkey Tour (<--- links to playlist of the whole saga)...  I suspect that these videos, like all home movies, are probably most interesting to those who appear in them - and maybe those who really & truly love those who appear in them.  For the rest of you, I hope at least they are a pleasant reminder of the Quicksandglass tunes and a happy peek into the complete and utter - nearly (but not actually) embarrassing - lack of pretentiousness that characterizes my band.  I wouldn't want it any other way, even if seeing myself on film makes me want to build a blanket fort, hide in it, and never come out again ever not even for a whole box of Lemonade Girl Scout cookies.

Maybe for two boxes.

Anyway, my favorite part of the Norfolk to NYC to Boston segment is probably the part where we hang with the qsg producers, David & Dre from Same Sky Productions.  (If you weren't already going to be at my show Thursday night, I'd suggest you tune into their online radio show, Same Sky Radio on  Luckily you can come to my show AND listen to theirs via podcast later!) We had to censor 98% of their segment of our video, but you get a taste, anyway.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TBH TOFURKEY TOUR PART 2: Stu, have I been swearing a lot?

So I'm kinda leaning toward jeans for the acoustic gig on Thursday (8pm at The Armory Cafe in Somerville).  It's casual, right?  And when am I ever going to get to wear jeans to a gig again?  Then again, a folk costume would really be entertaining.  To me, anyway....  I'm sure anything I wore in college would suffice.  Hm.

Anyways.  Here's Part 2 of the tour!  Philly to Norfolk!  My favorite part of this is obviously me eating the stuffing that Aaron's wonderful mother made.  She made extra.  Because I think I warned Aaron ahead of time that I always stuff myself with stuffing.  And it was good.  Sooooooooo good.

Monday, March 1, 2010

TBH TOFURKEY TOUR PART 1: I hope nobody ran over a turkey. You think they might have?

Well.  Enough enough of that stuffy stuff.  I can't let Dr. Geoff think he was right about our underlying message ... impending doom and all that.  A nihilist I am not.  (That'd be too exhausting.) 

And besides - it's March!!!  WOO!

And in four short days (on March 4th, the only day of the year that is also a command), I finally get to live out my folk singer dream when the GP & I play our first ever acoustic set at The Armory Cafe on Highland St. in Somerville - along with the marvelous talents of St. Helena's Magen Tracy, & Sophie Innerfield of Highly Personal Trash!  I'm extremely nervous/excited.  I have no idea what I will wear.

While I work on figuring that out, I'd like to share some home video with you - footage from the This Blue Heaven Thanksgiving Tofurkey Tour 2009!  

It comes in three parts (Boston to Philly, Philly to Norfolk, & Norfolk to NYC to Boston) and features songs from our 2009 release, Quicksandglass as well as special guest appearances from the album's producer and engineer - Same Sky Productions' David Messier & Andre Cantave!  Be sure to check back in tomorrow and the next day for parts 2 & 3 of this sillarious saga!

My Boston to Philly favorite moment:  the dancing boys post-show.  Definitely.