Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays"

When I create my Hands on Stanzas syllabi for the year, I start by identifying certain dates around which I might be able to design a lesson plan -- holidays, of course, but also birthdays, remembrances, daylight savings time beginning or ending, and sometimes even more tenuous ephemera -- whatever works as a jumping off point for a particular idea. I had earlier noted December 21st as the official start of winter, and while I've previously done lessons that were explicitly winter-related (such as on Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man"), going through my brainstormed list of possible poems to use for the year, Robert Hayden's brilliant 'American' sonnet, "Those Winter Sundays" struck me as ideal for the seasonal theme, as well as for rounding out the halfway point of my residency.

Like James Wright's poem from the week prior, Hayden's has an emotional potency that I think makes it ideal for young people. My students, for example, needed little prodding to make the connection between the father's unsung efforts on his family's behalf, and their wanton disappreciation of them. (We also talked about possible meanings of "the chronic angers of that house." I know from Hayden's bio about his contentious upbringing, but rather than telegraphing that information to students I am more prone to ask them what the line might mean, based on what we have already deciphered in reading the poem closely.) I also thought here was an ideal situation where I could stealthily introduce the concept of a sonnet to students, without taking them down a perhaps precarious pentametrist path.

For their writing idea, I gave students the sonnet's limitation of fourteen lines, and encouraged using more than a single stanza. (Many, in turn, emulated Hayden's three stanzas, but that's fine; prompting said emulation is another stealth method for teaching basic construction tenets of poetry composition.) I said that family should be the (perhaps loose) theme of their poems. Finally, I told them that their poems needed to be set during winter, but asked that they not use the word winter in the poem itself -- they could describe winter weather, or other facets of wintertime, or incorporate details about winter instead. (I did allow the use of 'winter' in the titles of those who asked.)

Here are poems from my three 5th grade classes at Shields. Enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

James Wright, "A Blessing"

I've had James Wright on my shortlist for teaching since I started with Hands on Stanzas in 2003. However, as I tell my students each year, while I may return to certain poets with some regularity, I try to avoid bringing in the same poems, even if I have students in classes unfamiliar with them. (While the temptation is there to repeat particular poems -- call them favorites of mine, those with an addictive kind of resonance -- and/or poems that 'work' in the classroom, it's outweighed by the sheer number that get bumped from syllabi to syllabi.) I'd rather try out a new lesson and have it nosedive (or it's luminous alternative -- succeed beyond my wildest expectations) than pull out the same hoary poetry idea, albeit one that gets proven results. Teaching is a two-way affair: I am lecturing, after all, especially to younger children, as far as giving them the tools to begin working with and deciphering often intricate literary works, but their responses give me new insights into, and methodologies for teaching those same poems.

So I've finally gotten to Wright, and his poem, "A Blessing." Certain people have a strongly negative reaction to it (some are even professed fans of Wright), attacking its adroit melodrama and purple prosiness, but its intense earnestness could be what makes it such a teachable poem. An argument could be made that its intensity of feeling is a kind of naivete that works well with inspiring kids, but I think its unguardedness is a quality, an emotional plus, that transcends age barriers. Navigating its narrative to reach the poem's startling denouement -- its last three lines -- was a trek well taken, and while the concept that initiated the students' own poems might have been deceptively straightforward (and some of the resulting work superficial), the depth charges that combusted during our discussions of the poem itself were well worth it.

Once again, please read these Shields and Solomon student poems, and enjoy!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

John Haines, "The Sweater of Vladimir Ussachevsky"

The impetus for last week's Hands on Stanzas poem idea was the change in seasons. We've had a mild (and lengthy) fall here in Chicago, and only recently did winter begin to make itself known and felt -- while no snow currently clings to the landscape, just a few days ago we had our first serious flurries which transformed seemingly instantly into a full-fledged whiteout. Temperatures have also dropped into the thirties; my ritual morning check of the Weather Channel's Local on the 8s offers, as of this writing, no surcease from winter's chill.

Rather than have students write a weather poem -- a reliable and flexible idea unto itself -- I used the onset of winter to have them consider a favorite (or unfavorite) article of clothing. I asked them to describe it using as much detail as possible: color, size, shape, condition (old/new), material (cotton/wool/leather/fur/denim/rubber). How does it feel when you wear it? Warm, safe, (un)comfortable? Did it belong to someone else before? If so, who? Does it have an emotional component then? For the purposes of this poem, I defined "clothing" as anything they could wear, which would also include jewelry, glasses, hats, gloves, etc.

The poem I chose to read and discuss for inspiration is an interesting one: "The Sweater of Vladimir Ussachevsky" by John Haines. Haines is not a poet I was familiar with, and I found this particular poem by searching using a variety of different terms and databases. While there were others on my critical radar beforehand (Neruda has some terrific clothes poems, especially "Ode to My Socks"), I like how Haines begins his poem, focusing on the borrowed sweater and the more or less contemporary sense of place (New York City), and erodes reality through the first three stanzas to find the speaker, by the fourth (and longest) stanza, "in Siberia or Mongolia, / wherever I happened to be." Students reacted well to this slippage of time and place; even if the geographical layout was unclear to them, they knew something had happened to transport the speaker from urban New York to a mountainous terrain elsewhere. I also gave them some background on the poem courtesy of the poet himself, including information about the titular sweater-lender.

A poem such as this really opens the door to multiple interpretations and ideas, and at both of my schools we enjoyed discussing it as much as possible in what time we had. Here are the poems from Shields and Solomon students.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Allen Ginsberg, "A Supermarket in California"

In last week's 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes, students wrote their first group poems of the year, inspired by Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California." I chose the poem because of its imagery -- a blend of the everyday and the mythic -- and for its serpentine, oratorical lines; we have mainly been reading poems with more constricted language, and I wanted students to get a look at something quite contrastive, seeing (as well as hearing) the difference. After talking about who (and what) is in the supermarket, I asked what "shopping for images" might mean, and how poets can find inspiration in sometimes unlikely places.

More on the group writing process itself can be found at Shields' and Solomon's blog entries. Hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Alberto Blanco, "The Parakeets"

In my classes this week, we read and discussed Alberto Blanco's "The Parakeets." The focus was on personification and to what extent Blanco uses it in the poem, but we also delved into trickier territory, for example, asking how exactly does one talk to their shadow, or converse with silence -- isn't silence the opposite of talking? We also discussed Blanco's use of repetition in the poem -- what exactly he chose to repeat, possible reasons why, and what ultimate effect was achieved by doing so. Finally, we focused on the last two lines and why they were important. (I actively endorse good closure in a poem -- not necessarily simply for effect, nor for the sake of a contrived epiphany, but as a methodology for leaving the poem with a sense that you as reader have made a trek, from the equally-important opening, through the mysterious terrain of its body, to a predetermined destination. Admittedly, sometimes in a poem it's the journey and not the destination that matters, but more often than not a good ending gives the reader information that prompts them to re-explore the poem anew, and see it afresh, starting again at the beginning.)

Here are student poems from Shields and from Solomon schools. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rapid Poetry Reading at Series A Mini Conference

On September 19th I was honored to be asked to participate as part of this rapid poetry reading, culminating the afternoon's special mini conference on poetry and poetics. Also featured here are moderator (and Series A founder) Bill Allegrezza, Tim Yu, Kristy Bowen, Srikanth (Chicu) Reddy, Abra Johnson, Ray Bianchi, Kristy Odelius, Garin Cycholl, Chad Heltzel, Simone Muench and Nick Demske. I'm actually first on this amazing bill, reading "My Biology of Louis Pasture," "New Age Baby Names" and "My Penis," but I encourage listening to the whole reading for some sense of the incredible range of voices and material assembled for this undertaking.

Series A
is dedicated to showcasing experimental writing in the US and the Midwest through readings, discussion and performance. Organized by Indiana University Northwest faculty member, William Allegrezza, this series brings exciting authors to the Hyde Park Art Center to share their work.

It looks as if I'll be back early next year for a feature at Series A. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Larry Levis, "In a Country"

I am the poet-in-residence in two Hands on Stanzas schools this year. So far, work by students (grades 3-5 in one school, all 5th grade in the other, representing a rather wide demographic overall) has been pretty amazing.

I'll try to post their poems here regularly. In the meanwhile, take a gander at Shields and Solomon student work regarding Larry Levis' "In a Country." The prompt's genesis was Election Day this past week, and by its title you can see how this poem might apply. But it goes much further than that, and I was especially pleased by how readily and eagerly students responded to the poem, as well as to each other in our discussion of it. I always come well-prepared with questions and particulars to help them navigate the poem in question, but here they dove right in. Enjoy!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Window Washers

They're doing the semi-annual window washing for our building today. In honor of that -- and the brave folks whose job it is -- here's a poem from my Brief Nudity manuscript, currently circulating among potential publishers.


Window Washers


Stunt men of the air

swinging by a string,


water buckets dangle,

brushes soak inside.


Boots bang window

panes, steadying


descents. Squeegeeing

smudges with Zorro-


esque swirls, black

droplets spatter forty


stories down, dirty

tears


falling

from gratified glass.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bucketfull of Brains


The good folks at Bucketfull of Brains are having a subscription drive.

For those unfamiliar with this fantastic music (and more) magazine, I suggest you check out their blog, Facebook, and/or My Space pages. Like many other labors of love, BoB has encountered severe financial handships the last couple of years, and even stopped publishing for a while. The last few issues have been one-offs, but now they're looking to begin publishing again on a regular schedule; however, in order to do this they need 400 new subscribers. With print magazines going under at an alarming rate, it would be a shame to see a terrific magazine like BoB suffer the same fate.

For more info on how to subscribe, see the pages, above. You won't be sorry if you support this amazing, one-of-a-kind publication!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Orange Alert Reading Series

Please come to The Whistler this Sunday, October 18th at 6 PM. I'll be featuring as part of the Orange Alert Reading Series, along with Micah Ling, Nathan Graziano, and Simone Muench.

The Whistler is located at 2421 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, (773) 227-3530. Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

September Mourn

OK, the title of this post is a pretty lame Neil Diamond pun, but it seems to work given the last few weeks.

For one thing, September's arrival pretty much puts a nail in summer's coffin, and while I'm an avowed non-fan of humidity, shorts and volleyball, since I started teaching full-time I've become accustomed to a summer vacation -- or staycation, such as it were. Even though mine was busy in its own right, I welcomed the break from the spring semester's routine, and managed to get a few items crossed off my never-ending to do list.

With September peeking around the corner, my various ducks are beginning to fall into their myriad rows...

A recent bit of good news was getting hired to teach two sections of English composition at McHenry County College. Though I was retained in the eleventh hour (the university has been swamped with a third more incoming students because of its Promise scholarship program) and had to scramble to get my syllabi together in time, everyone has been very supportive and gone out of their way to help me get settled even while juggling their own craziness at the start of a new term. Every English classroom comes equipped with computers and smart electronics -- a luxury I'm not quite used to, but plan to exploit as much as possible. And the students themselves are terrific. Both of my sections are full, and I'm excited to see how this semester goes.

I'll also be tutoring at Northeastern Illinois University, working one-on-one and in small groups with students. Classes start tomorrow. While I'm sorry not to be teaching my own section(s) again this year, I'm curious to see how this flagship tutoring program develops and pleased to be a part of it from the ground floor.

Mid-September I should also begin a new year of poet-in-residence work through The Poetry Center's Hands on Stanzas program. More to come on that front.

Continuing the onslaught of Fun with a Purpose-related news, here's another review and a link to Japanese distribution for our album. The Injured Parties will also be playing this week at Beat Kitchen; the poster, below, is self explanatory.


Finally, the reading celebrating the release of the bilingual Chinese-American anthology, on the no way road to tomorrow, to which I contributed two poems, was held on Friday. It was a great success, and I'm honored to have been a part of this ongoing cultural exchange and experiment.

Friday, August 14, 2009

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio

Thanks to the good folks at This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio for playing "American Comfort" on last Sunday's show.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bill's Music Forum review of Fun with a Purpose

Thanks to Bill's Music Forum for the nice review of Fun with a Purpose. With comparisons to They Might Be Giants, The Hoodoo Gurus and Material Issue, how can you go wrong?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

INDIE104

You may request The Injured Parties songs, "Dogwalker" and/or "If You're Gonna Break My Heart" here for airplay on INDIE104.

Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Battle of the Bands & Test Drive 2009

I never take part in these, yet here I am, with two opportunities to vote for The Injured Parties:

JanSport's second annual Battle of the Bands


The bands featured here will battle it out for the chance to share a stage with some of the biggest names in music. The winner will perform at next year's Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky to an audience of fans, press and industry reps. Past performers include Black Keys, The Avett Brothers, De La Soul and Sleater-Kinney.

So now we're looking for your vote. Tell us, who's your favorite band? The first round of voting begins today at http://www.jansport.com/forecastle

You can vote for The Injured Parties once each day through August 31, 2009. The Top 25 bands at the end of Round 1 will move on to the judging round and be one step closer to winning the competition.

Here's the link:

http://www.sonicbids.com/voting/premium/BandProfile.aspx?c=10260&p=326

Taylor Guitars and Elixir® Strings are proud to present Test Drive 2009


This emerging artist support program will align FIVE artists or bands with Taylor SolidBody electric guitars, a supply of Elixir Strings and Elixir® Cables. And one final artist/band will head to a studio to record with their world-class guitars, strings and cables.

The Injured Parties are one of the acts taking part in this competition. Here's our profile:

http://testdrive.taylorguitars.com/BandProfile.aspx?c=7810&p=325

So here’s where you come in. We need your help picking the artist -- i.e., us. Here's the rest of the scoop from Taylor Guitars and Elixir® Strings.

ROUND 1

Check out the artists featured here — their music and bios — and cast your vote from August 3-31, 2009. You can vote once a day, so if you have a favorite, be sure to visit each day. Your vote will determine our list of top 25 artists, who will move to a panel review by the Artist Relations teams from Taylor Guitars and Elixir Strings.

AFTER ROUND 1 VOTING ENDS

The Artist Relations teams from Taylor Guitars and Elixir Strings will be going through the top 25 artists you select in Round 1 to narrow it down to five finalists. These are the bands who will be outfitted with Taylor SolidBody electric guitars, a supply of Elixir Strings, and Elixir Cables.

These finalists will be challenged to create a short video that shows how they put the gear to work on stage and/or in the studio. The video can be performance-based, documentary-style, a conceptual music video, or any format that showcases the use of the gear. The videos will be posted here for a final round of voting by the fans.

ROUND 2

We need your help again! Round 2 voting will take place from November 2-30, 2009. This time around, you can check out the videos from the top five finalists and cast your vote to crown the winner of the Taylor Guitars and Elixir Strings Test Drive 2009. Your vote will give an emerging artist time in a marquee studio to record with their new gear.

Please vote for us daily (as often as possible) through the month of August! Thanks in advance for your support.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Radio, Radio (Basingstoke, UIC, INDIE104)

Some big news regarding airplay for The Injured Parties this coming week!




"American Comfort" is the last song on DJ Astrid's Unsigned Show on UK station Radio Basingstoke, broadcast on Monday the 3rd of August at 5 pm, Tuesday the 4th at 1 am & 8 am, repeated on Monday the 10th & Tuesday the 11th at the same British times. American listeners, as well as those outside the UK will have to do the math on broadcast hours in your area.





Also this Monday, the band will be featured on DJ John Rose's Hidden Treasures of Rock and Roll show on UIC Radio. Tune in between noon and 4 pm.





Last but not least, "Dogwalker" and "If You're Gonna Break My Heart" have been added to rotation on INDIE104-iRADIO LA! Both should be available for airplay starting this Wednesday, August 5th, if not earlier, so contact the station and request one, the other, or both!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Me Decade & Post Office CD's available again

Local label Spade Kitty has made copies of albums by my previous bands, The Me Decade and Post Office available again via CD Baby.

Click on titles to get copies of Gentrification Is Theft and Public Displays of Affection. Reviews of each are below.

Witty Anglo-jangle pop group includes Larry O. Dean (who last year released a solo record entitled Throw the Lions to the Christians) and Stephen Becker. Their debut, Public Displays of Affection is on Spade Kitty. Centerstage Chicago

All right, so I'm really late catching up with the debut by this indie-pop quartet– Post Office recently finished recording their second album– but jangly, effervescent tunes such as "The Whole Thing's a Bust" and "Damen Avenue" are too good to overlook. In fact, the latter joins the Handsome Family's "The Woman Downstairs" as my second favorite song this year about a Chicago thoroughfare (The Handsomes' tune pays homage to Ashland). To find a local band in this genre as good as Post Office, you'd have to stretch all the way back to the Reverbs, and that's saying something. Jim De Rogatis

Sweet sounding... loose pop. This Chicago-based band is led by Stephen Becker and Larry O. Dean, two talented fellows who know how to write a catchy pop tune. There's a certain bubblegum-like quality to many of these tunes, but they're actually much deeper than that. Thick waves of guitars caress these thumpy little tunes, and the vocals fit the music just fine. Fifteen memorable tunes. Four star rating. Babysue

A quiet release that every pop fan missed and now dug out for enjoyment for Not Lamers everywhere from two guys, Larry O. Dean who was in a SF band called the Fussbudgets and Chicago/New York based songwriter, Stephen Becker. Merging Game Theory/Let's Active, Rickenbacker pop of cool Matthew Sweet come db's, and pinches of country acoustic rock played with the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy with supple guitar and some doses of Let's Active and Go-Betweens as well. Delightful, unpretentious and full of snappy pop surprises throughout and with each successive listen. Very Highly Recommended! Not Lame



This Chicago band could almost be a Go-Betweens tribute band, they have the same exact feel as that clever, loose limbed Aussie act. With guitarist/songwriter Larry O. Dean's plaintive vocals, Derek Walvoord's viola soaring in the background and the backup harmonies of Pamela Richardson, Jeff Greaves (also on drums) and Tim Ferguson (also on bass), their folky chamber rock songs have a similar depth of feeling. They easily mix strings sections with edgy abrasive guitar parts and both factions are better off for it. Leader Dean is a prolific type and has also spent time as a member of the Fussbudgets, Malcontents and Post Office as well as being a published author, poet and comic book artist. The Me Decade is one ego trip that you should definitely take. The Big Takeover

Pretty melodies and Americana sounding pop with the kind of earnest nasal voice that wins nerdy fan loyalty. The Me Decade should be able to draw fans of Bloodshot Records and Weezer and Violent Femmes and I hope they do. Roctober

The Me Decade is an enigmatic Chicago five-piece combo fronted by scene veteran, singer-songwriter Larry O. Dean. Fresh off of Dean's latest solo album, Sir Slob, the backing band is ready to mark its "official" debut entitled Gentrification Is Theft which will be released in October on the indie label, Spade Kitty Records. The fifty-minute disc is full of heady string arrangements and rock guitars, reminiscent of early XTC and Siamese Dream era Smashing Pumpkins. "Dawning on Your Face" is a splendid, sing along pop song with a refrain that threatens to stick with you throughout the day. "The Boy Who Fell Too Far From the Tree" is a vibrant opening tune, and "Echo Beach" driven, whereas "Looking For a Spark" is the moody and sad tale of growing old. All at once, Gentrification Is Theft feels like an anthem and something distinctly personal. Co-produced and engineered by Mark Schwarz (Chamber Strings, Neko Case, Freakwater) the album may just emerge a sleeper to ascend the college charts. Dean has been working the windy city music scene since 1996 where he is called "one of the hardest working men in Chicago rock" (Home Pride Chicago). Prior to that, he cut his teeth both as a solo acoustic performer and front man for pop bands like the Fussbudgets and Malcontent in San Francisco. Not just a prolific musician, Dean is also an anthologized poet whose bibliography is as impressive as his discography. Cosmik Debris

Chicagoan Larry O. Dean has gathered together another talented Windy City bunch – The Me Decade. This band's disc, Gentrification Is Theft, should be released soon. From a contemporary perspective, the band's songs sound like Russ Tolman and Girls Say Yes. On a more dated basis, one can also hear wisps of the mid-60s San Francisco mixed gender bands, Jefferson Airplane and It's A Beautiful Day. Whether the tunes feature strummy pop, straight-ahead rock, fuzzy amplification, psych/pop or guitar pop with strings, the twelve songs are all catchy enough to make this disc a worthy addition to your pop music library. Fufkin.com


Music Marathon & Benefit

For the past few years, I've been making the trek to Milwaukee in snowy January to read at Woodland Pattern Book Center's annual Poetry Marathon. It's always been a terrific opportunity for me, with audiences that are big as well as enthusiastic, and satisfying too since the store's one of the last great independent booksellers.

On August 22nd, Woodland Pattern will host its first ever Music Marathon & Benefit in support of the Alternating Currents Live (ACL) music series. ACL had its official inauguration in September 1995 with a solo performance by Dutch saxophonist Luc Houtcamp. Hal Rammel, ACL's curator, had already been on 91.7 WMSE-FM when Anne Kingsbury & Karl Gartung invited him to extend the show into live concerts at Woodland Pattern. The concert is then aired the following Sunday on 91.7 WMSE-FM.

For 15 years, Alternating Currents Live has presented composers, performers and improvising musicians from around the world as well as next-door. The Music Marathon is a wonderful chance to discover and connect with a rich variety of musicians from the Milwaukee area. Spoons, mandolin, drums, flute, violin, trombone, guitar, cello and rubber duckies have all had their turn at Woodland Pattern.

Each music marathon participant will perform 10 minutes of music –- jazz, folk, rock, instrumental, rap, hip hop, experimental, etc. or any combination. All money raised will go towards the Alternating Currents Live music series. Individual pledges can be for any amount.

I'll be playing during the 1:00 hour. If you'd like to sponsor me, please contact me by email.

Thank you! Hope to see you there.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

on the no road way to tomorrow

I was very pleased to be featured in the recent New Poetry Appreciation anthology, which included six translations of my poems into Chinese. Even more exciting is the fact that two of those poems will be republished in a bilingual anthology coming out next month.

Commemorating that publication, thirteen poets featured in on the no road way to tomorrow, a new anthology of poetry from Chicago and Kunming, China, will gather at St. Paul's Cultural Center, 2215 W North Avenue, for a reading at 7:30 pm on Friday, August 28, 2009. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

Featuring Jan Botiglieri, Nina Corwin, Larry O. Dean, Maureen Flannery, Paul Friedrich, Christopher Gallinari, Larry Janowski, Wayne Allen Jones, Lauren Levato, Liang Huichun, Charlie Newman, Deborah Rosen, and Steven Schroeder.

The Facebook invitation and announcement is here. Feel free to pass on the word, and hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Goodreads

I don't keep up with Goodreads as much as I should (and I'm even a Goodreads author!), but will try to actively post there more often. In the meanwhile, check out the cool grid of books I'm 'currently' reading:

Larry's currently-reading book montage



The Selected Levis

Miscreants: Poems

Flight: New and Selected Poems

Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996

Misfit:: The Strange Life of Frederick Exley

Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War

The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition

Selected Poems

Immanent Visitor: Selected Poems of Jaime Saenz, A Bilingual Edition

Paul Celan: Selections

The Three Way Tavern: Selected Poems

Complete Poems

The Art of the Possible!: Comics Mainly Without Pictures

Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko

Ring of Bone

Tarumba: The Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines

Selected Poems, 1970-1980

Sojourner Microcosms: New & Selected Poems, 1959-1977

Sleeping It Off in Rapid City: Poems, New and Selected

Vandals

The Government of the Tongue

Selected Poems



Larry's favorite books »



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Alehouse

Recently learned that I'll have a poem appearing in the 2010 edition of Alehouse, which will be out in November.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

More iTunes

My first solo album, Throw the Lions to the Christians, is also available on iTunes:

Larry O. Dean - Throw the Lions to the Christians

On iTunes you can also find the singles, "Frosted Flakes"

Larry O. Dean - Frosted Flakes

and "Thorn in My Side"

Larry O. Dean - Thorn In My Side

I'm just sayin'.

Post Unposting

Haven't posted in almost two weeks. For one thing, I decided to cease (temporarily? Permanently??) reproducing work from Pith & Vinegar. Hope everyone enjoyed the poems, and more so, that the manuscript finds a home somewhere.

Since my last post, I appeared on WLUW in Chicago, promoting The Injured Parties' record release party at the Double Door later that same night. (If you'd like to hear the show, which runs about an hour, it's archived here; you may download it, or listen to it streaming.) In addition to discussing the band I brought along some music I've been listening to lately. Thanks to DJs Razor and Di for having me on! The gig itself also went well; we finally had copies of Fun with a Purpose for sale, and as an added bonus, people who came out specifically to see us received one of four randomly awarded rock 'n' roll rubber ducks as a door prize:


The next day I hit the road for Murray State University where I successfully defended my thesis and then read with fellow graduates at the Clara Eagle Gallery. Murray has a terrific low-residency MFA program that I cannot endorse enough! Thanks to everyone there for making my experience such a rewarding one.

Since returning to Chicago, after collapsing from all the recent activity, I've become aware of some early reviews and airplay for Fun with a Purpose. Whenever I can, I'll pass on other notices here.

Finally, a reminder that the album is available on iTunes,

The Injured Parties - Fun With a Purpose

and elsewhere, including Rhapsody, Napster, eMusic, IMVU, Lala, Shockhound, and Amie Street. It may also be ordered directly from the label, Zenith Beast and me!

More to come...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Heart's Desire"

The centerpiece of Workers' Comp. was a longer poem for a girl I'd met while working in San Francisco's downtown. Before I knew her name I called her the "stoop brooder," because that's how I first saw her -- sitting outside where she worked, brooding and smoking -- and how I often saw her many times after that, before starting to talk to her. I found out she was also from the Midwest (Wisconsin) and had had a tough upbringing, which lead her to run away from home at a young age.

As we became friendlier, she felt comfortable enough to ask me to help her move. I didn't have a car, so I asked a friend at the time if I could borrow his. The move itself didn't take long -- she didn't have much in the way of material possessions -- and since I didn't have to return the car for several more hours I suggested we get out of town and just drive. Somehow we made it to the titular beach, and while details have been sieved through a poetic filter everything here happened pretty much as described.

Was this a romance? No. I felt an attraction to Meg but it was more of a brotherly thing; she was over ten years younger than me, and had a combination of strength and fragility that made me want to protect more than woo her.

I like this poem very much. It has never appeared in print aside from the chapbook and often winds up selected for longer or more retrospective readings.

Heart's Desire
for Meg Lewis, wherefore art thou...

On this parched beach
we have come to
lie corpses of starfish,
arms outstretched
in a desperate plea
for belonging.

Perhaps it’s something
about muddling forward
that drew them here
toward land, some
need to evolve

we with our two-legged
taken-for-grantedness
can’t or won’t understand,
or have forgotten.

◊ ◊ ◊

Blunt stones
poke through cold sand
like baby teeth;
broken seashells
bob in the thirsty surf.

In your battered black
leather jacket and ripped
jeans you are a pale angel,
an underage,
Botticellian refugee
booted out of heaven
for smoking.

◊ ◊ ◊

Company picnickers
play volleyball, bonding
over flat beers
and barbecues. One
of them―wheelchair-
bound―stares out
at listless waves

lapping the low-tide
shoreline, remembering
swimming lessons
he took as a kid,
methodical laps
in roped lanes
of the YMCA pool.

◊ ◊ ◊

Near the parking lot
someone has chained
a black, slobbering
dog to a sign scolding
NO PETS ALLOWED
ON THE BEACH!

tail wagging
maniacally; edging

toward our borrowed car,
past trash cans full
of ketchup and mustard-
smeared paper plates,
plastic forks and spoons,
that dog’s lonely

hysteria counter-
points the complacency
of those beach-bound
humans, one of whom
abandoned him here
to a funless
afternoon, choking for love

at the end of a leash.
Then I consider
this place and its name―
invocation of all
the unattainables
of mutt or man,
too truthfully unjust
for the frivolity
of a lazy
Sunday spin.

◊ ◊ ◊

Driving back
to the city,
the road curves
through mountain dells
and tucked-away towns;
in one such town
you lurch against the seat-
belt, like a child

against her mother’s arm,
craning your head
toward
a plain
but hopeful house,
its white picket
fence clutching
bunches of wisteria
like a bridal bouquet.
“Look,” you cry, pointing,

“isn’t it beautiful?”
In the rear view
mirror, flowers flash
in a cloud of purple-green
fire.
Later you light
another cigarette,
exhaling smoke
out the open window.

As I slow down, handing
the toll guard two
dollar bills
in the long-shadowed
late day, you smile
sleepily; tying your hair
back,
speckles
of sand glitter in it
like stars in the night
sky. Behind
us, an anxious horn
honks emphatically.

◊ ◊ ◊

Pulling up
to the curb
outside your Tenderloin
apartment, double-
parking, waiting
for you with your new
set of old keys

to set foot safely
inside the front door,
you turn then,
waving goodbye,

as a pair of tattooed
prostitutes standing

nearby simul-
taneously spit.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Bridging the Gap," "4th of July"

In honor of the holiday, aside from walking around with lit sparklers in my back pockets, I first present one pertinent poem, which originally appeared in Nobody Quarterly and was included in my QWERTYUIOP chapbook, as well as a second poem from Identity Theft for Dummies (published in an anthology called Summer Peaces in 2004) not earmarked for inclusion in Pith & Vinegar yet directly on theme.

Bridging the Gap

I think of you, father,
thinking of your son
as you watched him grow.

Was I much different
from what you had originally imagined,
when mother’s stomach swelled

with the likes of me?
Or just as you’d hoped?

◊ ◊ ◊

Now I watch my friends—
kids at their feet
learning to walk and talk—
their tired, happy faces,

thinking back perhaps
to their own parents as well—

to fathers and mothers working
day after day
in the crazy machinery

of American life—the drinks
in their hands
and cigarettes
mashed between their lips.

4th of July

All through the night,
firecrackers boomed

and shook
the foundations of homes
like bombs
in some uncivil war

no one could win
but everyone would be sure
they had a blast losing.

◊ ◊ ◊

Car
alarms gasped in the dark
in their death throes, dying

only to be
reborn following
a new barrage of explosions
bloodying the black clouds.

◊ ◊ ◊

There is no fear in cars,
just simple stupidity;
no patriotism, no opposition.
Fireworks lit up the sky

and there was some faint relief
with each idiotic flash
at just being alive, almost.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Truce"

Here is another Pith & Vinegar poem that never appeared in any chapbooks. It was originally published in The Cathartic in 1986.

Truce

We made love in the summer
on the bed that groaned with us

orchestration
windows wide open
flies landing on our skin
no sense at all of time

even as it passed us by
raking its fingernails
across our sweaty backs

◊ ◊ ◊

The sun made a blanket
on which we slept

sheets tore loose
from where they'd been tucked
and tangled around our legs
like ivy, poison ivy

as we sleepily listened
for the discourse of birds
watching from the sill
wondering what we were

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Hi, Question for You"

For your reading pleasure -- a selection from I Am Spam (2004), my most recently published book of poems, 'inspired' by spam email subject lines. I lament that I didn't include my first successful spam poem in there, too, but once I got it in my head that I wanted to try to do a whole book I had many more titles on hand that I wanted to try writing from. Of course, it could've gone on (and on, and on) as well.

Hi, Question for You

Where did you get that?
I hope I’m not being too personal.
It looks great on you.
I could never wear one of those,
my butt’s too big,
pardon my French.

Oh, are you French?
Parlez-vous Français?
Habla Español?
You look kinda European,
especially with that on.

When you take it off,
do you have to hang it up?
Does it wrinkle easily?
I hate to iron; come to think
of it, I don’t even own one.
An iron, I mean,
because obviously, I don’t
have one of those, although
I’ve always wanted one.

How much did it cost?
In American dollars.
I’ve been saving up
and would like to give myself
a gift, you know, something
special. Just like that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "The Plunger as Villian," "The Plunger as Hero"


A twofer today, from QWERTYUIOP (1989). Each could certainly work on its own, but the cumulative power of both together is undeniable.

The Plunger as Villain

How the eyes of passersby
bulged as my roommate and I
bore the plunger I'd bought
to clear the stopped kitchen sink

up like the Olympic torch,
or the Statue of Liberty
lighting the path home
to standing water and dirty dishes.

The Plunger as Hero

I carried the plunger home
and pressed its lips
to the mouth of the sink
for a resuscitative kiss,

whereby the drain
swallowed finally
and gasped, breathing
unobstructed again.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Tourists (photographers)"

Here's a poem from my chapbook, Barking Up the Wrong Tree (1989) that I recently rediscovered. (Kudos to friend and wonder-bassist, Ned Doherty for the canine cover image.) Over the course of preparing my Pith & Vinegar manuscript, poems have been added and subtracted, but what the current version tries to achieve is some kind of balance in terms of numbers of representative poems per book. The trick is finding work that still resonates personally, as well as holds up generally.

I don't remember a specific occurrence that triggered "Tourists (photographers)," but rather an amassed ennui after years of working in San Francisco's financial district and observing the de rigeur ritual of tourists shutterbugging indefatigably every inch of the city.

Tourists (photographers)

snap pictures upward
preserving tallness
(sheer walls of windows)
on film forever.

Where (I think)
do these photos
fit in? Between
baby shots
and bar mitzvahs,

graduation and
surprise parties

in an album set aside
for when guests drop by?
How do you explain
the presence

of a monolith
to the casual page-flipper
bored already
with unfamiliar faces

and shebangs they
weren't invited to?

It doesn't make sense.
But here they converge
(cameras collared
to their necks), snapping

happily ugly skyscrapers
from the cold blackness

their shadows puke out.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Red Lobster Blues"

Another uncollected Pith & Vinegar poem for today, which originally appeared in The Banana King:

Red Lobster Blues

Because they loved the crabs too much
the customers at Red Lobster

management was taken in the back
and beaten with jumbo shrimps

◊ ◊ ◊

Questioned about such plentiful
platefuls of servings, black eyes

blinked and trembling Adam’s apples fell
and “they were hungry” was their confession

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Dollar Store Nontraditional Sestina"


Today's Pith & Vinegar selection has not appeared previously in print. It was commissioned by The Dollar Store, a very cool and unique reading series in Chicago (that's currently on tour, by the way -- catch 'em if you can).

Dollar Store Nontraditional Sestina

The fried chicken he coveted came in a bucket of 6 pieces.
Safe for use around children and pets, the real wax candle glows and flickers without fire. Battery operated,
it emits a warm, ambient light without unhealthy smoke byproducts. In the living room, a circling train set
went round and round its track, a choking hazard with small parts,
toxic paint, smiling and waving animal passengers, its caveat “not for children under 3 years”
cruelly taunting tiny, yearning minds. It was, hastily, and on the cheap, made in China.

He and she own so many things made in China:
TV, DVD player; pants, socks, shirts; teakettle with 6 pieces
that whistles The Andy Griffith Show theme, but more often, does not. For children under 3, “years”
is a tricky concept. She looked at her daughter, soon to be four. Battery operated
clocks are telling her time, unlike her grandfather’s antique pocket watch, whose springs are suspected to be a choking hazard. Small parts
of him admired the force of habit of a circling train, set

in its ways; the circling train, setting
out to cover a route routinely made. In China,
the streets of Hong Kong are littered with choking hazards, and the small parts
played by its citizens help keep it safe—he admired that, too. Going home at 6, pieces
in the evening newspaper motivate millions of commuters to purchase premium batteries, operate
on a schedule and whatnot for children under 3 years,

watch more television, save Social Security. If not for children, under 3 years
is all the time it takes to let everything slide. In the old west, circling trains set
out for parts unknown circled at night for safety; pioneers didn’t have flashlights, much less batteries, operated
horse-drawn carriages and never dreamt what “made in China”
would one day suggest. They got by without being stigmatized. She used to know 6 pieces
by Shakespeare by heart, played them beautifully, people said. Choking back tears, hazarding graciousness, ever smaller parts

are all she plays now; like a Heimliched actress choking on her lines, the hazard of small parts
is once you play them, no one will cast you in leading roles anymore, not even for children. Under 3 years
was all it took to cool her heated dismay. Her husband’s on his way home at 6. Pieces
of pasta bob in boiling water. There are certain want ads she’s circling: will train, set your own schedule, earn money at home. If they made in China
what he makes, things would then be different. Neatly displayed in a battery, operated

from the backseat of her car, Tupperware tumbles at each unsuspected speed bump; in a battery,
operated
on the spot, she parks and promotes her wares. Some contain choking hazards: small parts
of kitchen utensils, plastic molded what’s-its, knickknacks and accouterments made in China
expressly for the US market. She wraps her fingers in a knot. Four children under 3 years
old walk toward her unaccompanied, weaving and circling. Train set-
backs have delayed his homecoming to half past 6. Pieces

of jigsaw puzzles made in China displaying pictures of battery operated
cartoon characters are down to 6; pieces the kids don’t see as choking hazards, small parts
that might injure them, are not for children under 3 years. But a child’s mind is a circling train set.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Lunch at the D.O.C."

I used to work for a non-profit organization in Chicago's loop that was a block away from the Cook County jail. Today's poem, originally published in my 2003 chapbook, Identity Theft for Dummies was inspired by many lunchtime excursions and observations that took me past the Dept. of Corrections.

(Ironic side note: I was contacted by a reporter from The Flint Journal shortly after the publication of Identity Theft for Dummies. Turns out I had been sought out because I was a Flint native who, the reporter erroneously assumed, had written a book on identity theft prevention. No interview took place, I'm sad to say...)

Lunch at the D.O.C.

It’s pretty there,
in the courtyard,
where in the fall trees
jettison leaves
like marked money.

Babies in buggies
with kind, cooing moms,
hair freshly done, resting
in the shade
smoking cigarettes.

Visiting hours over
guests assemble outside,
trading greetings,
weirdly friendly,
and pause

checking likenesses
in the bulletproof glass.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Boredom"

Today's poem is from my 1995 chapbook, Workers' Comp. (That's my dad, on the right in the cover shot, standing below the GAINFULLY EMPLOYED? banner, holding his paycheck. This photo is most likely from when he worked as a polisher at Ternstedt, in Flint.)

Boredom

People are bored, you can tell.
You can see it in their eyes
and in their manner—
the way their feet step
by rote and they never look
up to see where they're going.

I'm bored, too, barely
breathing through days on the job,
walking downtown in shadows
of anonymous skyscrapers,
diligently enabled
until five o'clock.

The only worse thing than being
bored are those people who
aren't—not because every
day's an adventure but because
every day isn't—with their go-
getters' enthusiasm and purgatorial pluck.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pith & Vinegar: "Feet"

Here's a poem from my Eyes, Ears, Nose & Throat chapbook (1990, cover art by Ken Rasak) that originally appeared in The Altered Mind. It's very evocative to me of a place, person and time in San Francisco, and is one I frequently read.








Feet

My right is bigger
than the left,
although you wouldn’t
know it just
to look; hers
are dirty
from going barefoot.

Out of curiosity,
I consider my hands
after giving them
a massage: the memory
of her arches,

ankles and toes lingers
there in an odor
unnoticeable
to any but the well-
trained in podiatry.

◊ ◊ ◊

Walking, I keep
my eyes peeled
for broken glass
on the ground,
never breaking stride
as we move on

up the street,
past lilac bushes,
the sun going
down
behind us
like a shiny dime.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pith & Vinegar

I've been working intermittently at putting together a manuscript that collects poems that were originally published in small press zines that are long out of print; most of those were done with limited press runs to begin with. Other poems appeared originally in chapbooks printed and distributed solely in San Francisco. I've been vacillating on the title, but Pith & Vinegar is one I keep returning to. My goal is to have the manuscript together before the end of the year.

Readings lately have largely comprised new or newer material, so I'm going to start posting some of the older poems earmarked for this volume -- to see if anyone still likes them, and to see how I feel about them now as well. The first is taken from by debut chapbook, Rate of Exchange & Other Poems (1988); it originally appeared in Poetalk, a little mimeographed mag from out of the East Bay.

Juggernaut

My sphinx-like cat
reclines on the
table, soaking up
sunshine

with that spongy intensity
he exhibits
at every new morning.

Wish I could be
that certain
or sometimes, that stupid.

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