JUST WONDERING

Ever been in Iowa?

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LIKE THAT FIELD OF STARS IN THE FLAG

I’ve long pondered the question, “What does it mean to be American?” As a native of the Midwest, my perspectives were quite different from the friends I met and lived with the first time I moved east, the ones whose experience of the rest of the continent happened when flying to California from New York City. There’s a lot in between! You need to get your feet on the ground.

And then, in the desert of the Pacific Northwest, everything twisted. Little I’d known was familiar. Once I adjusted, I never wanted to leave. But then, everything blew up, along with Mount St. Helens.

By degrees, I edged eastward, finally landing in New England. As for answers to that ongoing question, let me point you to my latest book release, the poetry collection Noble Blue Liberty. All we need is a field of stars.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WITH FURROWS, LIKE BROWS ON THE INTERIOR STATES OF THE AMERICAN SOUL

Like the American bison that dominated the prairie, the continuous ocean of tall grasses, which long spread from a corner of Ohio into Montana and Colorado, has been decimated. Homesteaders – seized by a fever to possess farmland of their own – sowed apprehension in their furrows. Inhabitants and land itself now lay open to chronic infection. After each harvest, the Breadbasket of the World, the Interior States of the American Soul, is left vacant, a stubble desert awaiting rebirth. Descendants of those who made this band agriculturally productive bear both its blessing, in economic output, and curse, as if no one can entirely escape the desperation that prompted settlement in the first place. In the recesses of the psyche, inheritors of these spaces must likewise sense themselves to be buffalo-people, and then fear they, too, may be heir to this fate. Pushed to the fringes, the intrinsic beauty and spiritual potential of the heartland are easily overlooked, both by the remnant population and the world’s policy-makers. Today’s farmers are mechanics, first and foremost. Cry, then, for harmony and healing – a proper reentry into Canaan, a taste of balm in manna. Look, ultimately, to the surviving bison and tall grasses with their underlying lavender shadings. Respect the faint drumming, growing louder.

~*~

Noble Blue Liberty
Noble Blue Liberty

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WITH WIDE CLOUDLESS SKIES

The poems of my newest collection, Noble Blue Liberty, include some of my earliest published literary work, along with some of my most recent. They range across the continent of my mind and heart to find home.

They revive the wonder of entering the wide cloudless skies of the Great Plains or youthful opportunity.

What opens with a dance tune here deflects into the reaction to a blow or injury, to a fly fisherman’s reel, the canisters of a movie, or even a soaring eagle. These poems span experiences of touch and coupling, however chaste at times, and of flight and emerging lightness. To be light on one’s feet, then, and lighthearted in the end, if not a little dizzy.

They could even be what poet John Haines has called “horses in the night.”

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

A TITLE OR A POEM OF ITS OWN?

I often delight in a phrase or term that takes on a life of its own, apart from a particular content or meaning. The poet Jack Spicer, drawing on his training as a linguist, was a master at this.

Overhearing one conversation recently, my mind’s eye took the Black Joker who met the Red Herrings on a Non-Tour in a much different direction. My choir buddies, Mike and Kate, knew who they were talking about, and where. It was all about Morris dancing. For me, though, it was pure magic on its own.

Words can, after all, exist in their own sound and space. How short can a poem be, anyway? I have a few that weigh in at one word apiece, while two or three words can make for a nice verbal dance.

The title of my newest poetry collection, Noble Blue Liberty, is one of those. Years ago, I warned the mother of three children I’d run with her lofty impression, and I have. Actually, the title could stand as a poem all its own.

I have similar feelings about some of my other recent releases.

~*~

Noble Blue Liberty
Noble Blue Liberty

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

I’M FASCINATED WITH THE INFLUENCE OF SPECIFIC PLACES ON OUR LIVES

A major element in my literary writing has always been an awareness of place, and when it comes to my fiction, I’ve often considered the surrounding landscape to be a character of its own. Called it the local vibe, if you will, but the soil and locale can embody and influence the inhabitants who interact within it. Or so I heard in the ashram when our teacher returned from her first trip to India.

The awareness has stuck with me as I’ve moved across the country, from my native Midwest to both coasts and points in-between.

Another major element, to my surprise, is work and, in a larger sense, economics.

My Hippie Trails novels – Daffodil Sunrise, Hippie Drum, Hippie Love, and Subway Hitchhikers – follow a young photographer who works for newspapers through the turbulent era, and rural Indiana, small-town Northeast, and New York City all have their place in the arc.

As a rundown farm, Ashram is a center of yoga life surrounded by forest and deer.

The Northwest Passion series, meanwhile – Promise, Peel (as in apple), and St. Helens in the Mix – leaps from the Midwest to the interior desert of the Pacific Northwest. In the background we see Jaya’s struggles as a rising executive in nonprofit organizations.  And then Kokopelli’s Hornpipe … plays …

With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses, Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang, and Third Rail … are rife with the mix.

The balance tips, though, with Hometown News, which is set in the newsroom of the daily newspaper serving a small industrial city beset by the emerging conglomerate corporations headquartered elsewhere.

And then we have Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, with its young apprentice managed by a mysterious Boss he never meets face-to-face as they transform a backwater town into a secretive factory involving international intrigue. Yes, there’s major locale, but the focus is on the day-to-day banter of what would otherwise be an office while bigger questions – including the very nature of the company paying the bills – remain nebulous, befitting its international distance.

A third central element has been spirituality and religion, especially the strands that veer away from the mainstream. Often my exploration has been for the awareness and nurture these can provide individuals and small circles of kindred spirits. But sometimes my perspective has been critical, especially when clannish identity, superstition, or custom override faith.

It should be no surprise that my next novel will also combine the three elements – it’s set in a family-run restaurant in a college town in the Midwest. But this time, family will be yet another central issue. Please stay tuned.

ASSUMING A CLUSTER OF IDENTITIES

As humans, each of us assumes a cluster of identities – some of them chosen and changeable, others immutable. My grandfather, for example, proclaimed himself Dayton’s Leading Republican Plumber, invoking a host of other identities as well: Mason, Protestant, Middle Class, Married. I don’t think “grandfather” was high up in his awareness. Being male or female or teenage or elderly, on the other hand, are simply givens. And the history of what we’ve done or failed to do cannot be altered, except in our own perceptions and retelling.

The range of identities is astounding. They include but are not limited to race, religion, nationality and locality, occupation, family (household and near kin to genealogy itself), education and educational institutions, athletics, hobbies and interests, actions and emotions, even other individuals we admire, from actors and authors to athletes, politicians, and historic figures. They soon extend to the people we associate with – family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. And, pointedly, our phobias and possessions.

Curiously, it becomes easier to say what we are not than what we are specifically. That is, set out to define yourself in the positive and you’ll find the list rapidly dwindling, while an inexplicable core remains untouched. Turn to the oppositions, however, and the list becomes endless. I am not, for instance, a monkey. Sometimes, moreover, a specified negative becomes truly revealing: “I am not a crook,” for instance, as the classic revelation.

Listen carefully – especially when others talk of their romantic problems or other troubles – and another portion of a mosaic appears. This collection of poems builds on such moments, constructing a cross-section of community like a web of each one of its members. Sometimes, a place appears; sometimes, a contradiction; sometimes, a flavor or sound or color. Even so, in this crossfire, then, we may be more alike than any of us wishes to admit. We may be more like the part we deny, as well. Our defenses wither. Our commonality and our essential loneliness are both revealed.

~*~

For my Village of Gargoyles poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.