I’m listening to a re-broadcast of the an interview with Missouri’s (first) Poet Laureate Walter Bargen on public radio. It was on this morning when a friend called my cell phone to say, “Hey, Mark Tiedemann’s on the radio! Bye!” I walked out to my car and tuned in the station to listen. Then, just now, Emily called my cell, “Hey Mark Tiedemann’s on the radio! Bye!” Mark is president of the Missouri Center for the Book and a good friend. (His blog is here.)

As the host was asking the obligatory questions about poetry (why doesn’t it ryhme?), I was taken back to high-school when the creative writing class was assigned the task of defining poetry. I admit I was at a loss to define it. I do remember though, that by the time we were finished discussing it, I had a word. A word that has stayed with me all these years. I heard it tonight listening to Mark try to describe why he picked Mr. Bargen for the Poet Laureate of Missouri.

The word is universitality. Not universality; but universitality.

The poet’s job (and all other artists, I would argue) is to reveal the universitality of a thing. A clear example of this revealing would be a sculptor “revealing” the sculpture within a block of marble. A poem reveals a moment in time and exposes the eternal lying just beneath.

I’m reminded of one of favorite books, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light by William Irwin Thompson. I can’t exactly remember the quote I’m trying to think of, but it was something like “the eternity that lays at the end of every exhale.” I was looking for that book just the other day to give to Emily. She wanted to know what the meaning of life was so I recommended the Book of Job and this one by Irwin.

I’ll leave you tonight with a couple of quotes from these two great books:

First, from Job, chapter 28 verse 22-28:

So where does Wisdom come from?
And where does Insight live?
It can’t be found by looking, no matter
how deep you dig, no matter how high you fly.
If you search through the graveyard and question the dead,
they say, “We’ve only heard rumors of it.”
God alone knows the way to Wisdom,
he knows the exact place to find it.
He knows where everything is on earth,
he sees everything under heaven.
After he commanded the winds to blow
and measured out the waters,
Arranged for the rain
and set off explosions of thunder and lightning,
He focused on Wisdom,
made sure it was all set and tested and ready.
Then he addressed the human race: “Here it is!
Fear-of-the-Lord—that’s Wisdom,
and Insight means shunning evil.”

And second, from Thompson:

“Forms of knowledge change as society changes. Sometimes these changes are small and incremental; at other times the changes are transformations of the structures of knowledge and not merely the contents. From religion to philosophy, from alchemy to chemistry, from legend to history, the social organization of knowledge changes as a new elite comes in to challenge the old authorities. But this movement is not simply a linear and one-directional shift toward increasing rationalization and de-mystification; when the rational historian has come in to take away authority from the mystical and tribal bard, the artist has returned to create new forms of expression to re-sacrilize, re-enchant, re-mythologize.”


This is not the right road

That’s not the right sky

Those aren’t the right trees I see

I shouldn’t be here

Or, I’m not where I should be

Blissfulness lost in the heart of sin

The town-square clock tower rings out

But I can’t hear it

Is it searching for me?

Century-old walls call out

Saying “Apply thine heart..”

But my eyes are filled with tears

Miss Sunshine

I wanted to write something for Annette for her birthday, which was yesterday. We are both very fortunate in that neither of us gets hung up on having much attention paid on our birthdays. Having said that, I’d like to share some stuff I wrote about her many a year ago. This first one is called “Miss Sunshine.” When I met her, she lived in an apartment with an elderly woman upstairs. Mrs. Mellinger was her name, and she was an authentic ragtime piano player. Mrs. Mellinger’s pet name for Annette was Miss Sunshine. This song paints a picture of two elderly people meeting across the fence in the yard. A while after I wrote it, Annette put some very nice chords and melody to it.

Hey, hey Miss Sunshine
How are your cats today?
Hope you’all are feelin’ fine
Hope everything’s goin’ your way

You say you’ve got just one cat now
That’s a sad thing to hear
Tell me if you could, tell me how
And what else has happened this year?

You say you held him as he died
You kissed him and gave him away
The rest of the day you cried and cried
Now listen to what I’m gonna say

You’re the bravest
You’re the brightest
You’re the prettiest woman on the block

You’re my favorite
Hear me beg for it
I think I got a key to fit that lock

The next one is the last verse of a song I wrote before we were married, but it pretty much summed up our meeting.

I met a lady just as fine as she could be
Proud as a lion, she roared that she was in love with me
I had no choice but to heed her will
I followed her around all the way until

We had to stop and make a deal
That she would be nice if I would be real
And before too long we both began to feel
That the love we had found was damned close to ideal

OK, so now you know why I kept my day job. One last thought to any of you who think I smart, cool, whatever. I’m nothing without her. I am a bum that you never heard of. Happy birthday Annette from your very own Frankie.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of Lent. Today, like many churches around the world, we burned the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday Service to use as the ashes for this service. We also spent a few meditative moments to write on a small piece of paper that were also burned with the palm leaves. You write what you’re going to “give up” for Lent. This could be something you’re really going to give up like red meat or chocolate, but it could also be something you take on, like exercise or reaching out to family members more often. It’s traditionally solemn, but it doesn’t have to be.

I always feel happy during Lent. It could be just the weather turning and the onset of Spring, but it’s also the renewing of life on a much deeper level. Morning has broken, like the first morning.

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

(Read about Eleanor Farjeon)

For Jen

For lo, the days are hastening on
By prophet bards fortold
When with the ever circling years
Come ’round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
It’s ancient splendors fling
And the whole world sends back the song
Which now the angels sing

I don’t have the nerve

I don’t think I have the nerve to write well. I got out my Rust Never Sleeps songbook and went through it. I sang Pocahontas and Powderfinger, the two really good ones from that album. Here’s the fourth verse of Pocahontas:

I wish I was a trapper
I would give a thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the morning on the fields of green
In the homeland we’ve never seen

C’mon! If I wrote that…I couldn’t write that. Yet, it’s a great song.

And so is Powderfinger. It’s so vivid:

Daddy’s rifle in my hand felt reassurin’
He told me, “Red means run, son, and numbers add up to nothin’ ”

Then the last verse starts:

Shelter me from the powder and the finger
Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger

That is great stuff.

I’m just going to keep on pluggin’ away here and see what happens. Here’s a verse and a chorus of a song I wrote a lifetime ago:

Evening turns over
Early in October
I’m alone again
How long has it been?

A couple of years, a couple of tears
The autumn always seems to be
A time of remembrance to me

‘Cause the moon goes around the earth
And the earth, it circles the sun
We come around and do it all over again
Somehow, it just doesn’t seem the same this time around
To me